True to their word, climate activists that found reasons to oppose I-732’s carbon tax have gathered the signatures for a new measure, I-1631. It’s now virtually assured of appearing on your November 2018 ballot.
The measure would levy a “pollution fee” on the carbon content of all consumed fossil fuels, and electricity generated or imported here. On January 1, 2020, this would be $15 per ton of Carbon. In each new year, this would increase by $2/ton plus inflation, until Washington’s mandated 2035 greenhouse gas goals are met, and the board judges that compliance with the 2050 goals is likely.
The revenue, after administrative costs, has numerous specified uses. The Department of Commerce would develop a budget (“investment plan”) for approval by a Board appointed by the governor. Some limits on the spending:
- 70% must be used for “clean air and clean energy”, broadly defined as projects that can reduce emissions. The definition of these projects is very long, but includes public and nonmotorized transportation, as well as “affordable transit-oriented housing”. The investment plan must reduce annual carbon emissions by 20m metric tons in 2035 and 50m tons in 2050. 15% of this fund must “directly reduce the energy burden of people with lower incomes.” Beginning in the mid-2020s, a further $50m of this fund would be dedicated to support workers leaving the fossil fuel industry.
- 25% is for “clean water and healthy forests” to improve their resilience to climate change and ocean acidification.
- 5% is for “healthy communities,” basically wildfire preparedness and relocating tribes threatened by sea level rise.
There are further restrictions: 35% of the total must be spent to benefit “pollution and health action areas” (read: poor census tracts) and 10% must be supported with a formal resolution of an Indian tribe.
Utilities can get pollution fee credits for some carbon reduction activities. There are other fuel exemptions for fossil fuels to be exported, aircraft fuels, fuels for “agricultural purposes,” coal plants that will close by 2025, and so on.
This is not a perfect measure: in my view, it would be better to focus the spending more on maximizing carbon reduction and less on carving out funding for various constituencies. But this is a standard that little legislation can pass: building a coalition requires compromises. In any case, the spending seems remarkably focused on emissions reduction and mitigating climate impacts.
This measure would support transit use and dense neighborhoods in two directions, by both discouraging more energy-intensive versions of traveling and living, and providing direct funding to increase the supply of both.
Most importantly, as with I-732, the critical thing is to address the emergency of climate change and not obsess over secondary political priorities. It’s clear that conservatives won’t embrace a climate action plan that addresses many of their policy priorities, so the only coalition that can do something about this issue is one that embraces the entire center and left. This is a good initiative. But even if you have reservations, I urge you to support it strongly if you want Washington to do something about climate change.