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Washington Could Enact a Carbon Tax

by Countable | 11.3.18

What the Initiative Does

Washington Initiative 1631 would enact a carbon emissions fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon beginning on January 1, 2020, and increase that fee by $2 annually until Washington’s greenhouse gas reduction goals are met. It’d direct the revenue from this fee to three environment-related funds:

  • A fund for air quality and energy programs and projects;
  • A fund for water quality and forest health projects, and
  • A fund for investments related to communities.

Under Washington law, this measure qualifies as a fee, rather than a tax, because its revenue can’t be spent on government expenses or public programs — rather, it’s dedicated to specific accounts related to investing in climate and environmental projects.

If it passes, this initiative would make Washington the first U.S. state to enact a fee or tax on carbon.

In Favor

Preserving Washington’s environment for future generations requires establishing a fee on the largest corporate polluters to ensure that everyone’s doing their fair share to protect the state. Initiative 1631’s revenue would enable tremendous, valuable investment in green initiatives.

Opposed

Washington businesses are already among the greenest in the world, and they don’t need the impetus of a carbon tax to continue greening themselves. The proposed carbon tax would harm small businesses, families, and Washington overall by forcing energy prices up for everyone.

In-Depth

Yes on 1631 is leading the campaign in support of Initiative 1631 with the support of Gov. Jay Inslee (D), the League of Women Voters, The Climate Reality Project, and others. Yes on 1631 says that this measure will:

“Protect our communities’ health and leave a better future for our kids; invest in clean energy, like wind and solar, as well as healthy forests, and clean air and water; create thousands of local jobs in our communities across the state while cutting pollution; and establish a fee on the largest corporate polluters, to make sure we are all doing our fair share to protect our state.”

Gov. Inslee adds that Initiative 1631 is important for Washington’s children:

“The health of our children is at risk. What these children represent is an effort in the state of Washington to give them what they deserve, which is clean air. They deserve better than a smoky future. They deserve lungs that breathe clean Washington air, not smoke from hundreds of forest fires. Today, this smoke be opaque. But when it comes to children’s health, it has made something very clear, and that is the state of Washington needs to pass this clean air initiative, so these children can breathe clean air. They deserve that. The significance of this is profound."

Initiative 1631’s supporters add that it’d allow Washington to reduce CO2 emissions 25% by 2035 (the state’s official target).

Vote No on 1631 is leading the campaign in opposition to Initiative 1631 with the support of the Western State Petroleum Association and Association of Washington Business (AWB). Vote No on 1631 calls this measure an “unfair energy tax”:

“The risks posed by climate change are real, but I-1631’s new, unfair energy tax is a deeply flawed approach to climate policy for our state. It would force Washington families, farmers, small businesses and consumers to pay billions in higher energy costs – while exempting many of our state’s largest polluters, and providing no specific plan or accountability for spending billions in taxpayer dollars.”

AWB President Kris Johnson adds that Initiative 1631 isn’t the right way to reduce emissions, and it’ll reduce energy costs to an extent that’ll harm employers and small businesses:

“After careful consideration, our members concluded I-1631 is not the right way to reduce emissions. We share the goal of protecting the environment, but this initiative will raise the cost of energy for families and employers while offering little assurance it will result in a meaningful reduction of carbon emissions. Washington businesses are already among the greenest in the world and they continue to look for new ways to reduce their carbon footprint. This initiative will do little to reduce global carbon emissions while placing Washington employers, especially small businesses, at a competitive disadvantage with other states and regions that won’t have to pay the higher energy costs. There’s also concern that this establishes an unelected body of decision-makers. We believe there are better ways to reduce carbon emissions while also protecting jobs and family budgets."

Initiative 1631’s fee would provide Washington with around $1 billion in annual revenue. Washington would use 70% of these funds for clean air and energy investments, with 15% of that going specifically to easing carbon taxation’s burden on low-income energy customers and $12 million going to a fund to help ease fossil fuel workers out of the industry; 25% for water and forests, increasing Washington’s natural ecosystem’s resilience to climate change; and 5% for healthy communities, assisting communities, particularly rural ones, impacted by climate change.


Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Schroptschop)

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