“AirPollutionSource”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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.

49 Replies to “This Year’s Climate Initiative”

  1. No reservations here, I’m a solid “yes.”

    I expect a well funded “no” campaign however, vested interests being what they are. Hopefully they fail.

    1. I’ve heard oil industry is going to spend over $20 million on the “No” campaign. Best way to help is probably to volunteer at YesOn1631.org

    2. The media is describing the No campaign as being led by oil interests. That should help to blunt its effectiveness, because they can’t find any other organized group putting big money on No. That may be a good sign

      1. That is a good sign because the oil industry fought the tax neutral initiative as well as environmental groups. Might be obvious but clearly the oil industry is the one group we can all ignore when discussing a carbon tax as they are going hard line against any change. This is also what people thought would happen. The more middle ground neutral bill lost and were told that it didn’t do enough. Looks like this fall we’ll see if that’s true.

  2. On board.

    My pet initiative this year didn’t get enough signatures, so I need to adopt something else for the front yard. You’ve sold me. This is it. Where do we make a donation and get a yard sign?

  3. Something I think could pass across legislation across a wide of wave-length in the political spectrum, that nobody’s talking about, if they know: Even though it’ll bring about cleaner air and the rest, Texas is going to solar because it costs less than fossil fuels! Once again, the top-of-their-lungs budget-lovers are flat lying about the balance sheet itself!

    So at least say something about that! Which I think will lead to a lot of legislation that’ll now blatantly serve the interests of everybody but the fossil fuel lobbyists. Who, from what I’m hearing on the radio, occupy a lot of civil service positions from which their competent honest predecessors have either fled or been fired.

    I suspect that a lot of their employers are already buying a lot of stock in solar and wind. Hopefully with at least some of the profits that our Federal government is presently ordering, by law, that they get. Clean or pure poison, ’tis an ill wind that turns nobody’s turbine.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Do you have any links about Texas going solar? I looked it up on Wikipedia, which talks about Texas’ potential but not much else. New solar farms are opening, sure, but as far as I can tell it’s still only a small part of Texas’ electricity.

      1. Texas’s renewable portfolio is 99% west texas wind and 1% austin solar, speaking off the cuff.

        From research I see they get 18% of total energy from wind and sun with 1% of that being from the sun.


        Until California proves the economics and viability of solar Texas won’t touch it just like what happened with wind. I’m thinking in the next 5-10 years solar will emerge in Texas.

  4. There is another big difference between I-1631 this year and I-732 two years ago – nobody knew at the time that we were voting on I-732 that Donald Trump would become president. For me, this changed everything. I originally voted “no” on I-732, believing that climate change was better addressed at the federal level, an under a delusion that congress might actually do something. Now, it is quite clear that the federal government is going to do absolutely nothing to reduce emissions in the foreseeable future. Not only do we have a president who actively wants to *increase* emissions, but even if Trump were out of office, no carbon reduction legislation would ever pass the Republican congress as we know it.

    Thus, the only opportunity to act is to do what we can as a state and, hopefully, set examples for other states to do the same. I signed the petition, and plan on voting “yes” for it this November.

    1. It’s really sad that it took the election of Trump to come to the realization that nothing positive will ever come at the Federal level. We need to lead.

      Even previous advances in society have all come on the heels of state reforms:
      -Obamacare = Romneycare
      -Deregulation of marijuana is happening state-by-state
      -Environmental reforms: mostly start in California
      -Increases in minimum wage: led by California, Washington, New York, and a few other states

      These days, leadership NEVER starts at the Federal level. It always starts at the state and local level. Once upon a time, things were different. Gosh, NASA, the EPA, desegregation! Times have changed. These days, you need to make things work locally before anything will get adopted nationally.

      Is climate change better addressed at the Federal level? Absolutely. Will that ever happen without piecemeal change from states? Not in the political environment we’ve had for the past 15 years or so.

      1. Agreed (except it’s been much longer than 15 years).

        I know your list is not meant to be an exhaustive one, but nevertheless I would add marriage equality to said list as it too was driven by the states.

      2. It’s not that the federal government is never innovative but that we live in an era where the majority of both houses of Congress as well as the president and supreme court and the head of the EPA are reactionary, some are outright climate deniers, and many are bought by the oil and gas industry. States just have an easier time trying out new things and changing their mind, maybe because they’re smaller. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad. Canada’s univeral healhcare started in one province and spread to others before finally being adopted by all.

      3. Actually, this is the first time the Republicans have had control of all three chambers of the legislative and executive branches in several terms, so that’s another difference. People said Obama didn’t do much, but he held back all these things, and it’s a shame the voters didn’t realize the essential role he played.

  5. I’ll vote yes, of course (any sensible person should) but the failure of I-732 says a lot about the dysfunctional Republican Party. They are no longer the party of conservatives — they are the party of ideologues and idiots. Sorry for the harsh words, but I-732 was a free market, conservative approach towards solving one of the biggest problems facing the country and the world. It has worked in other places. But no conservative organization supported it, despite the fact that it would have slashed B and O taxes (one of the most oppressive taxes on small businesses) and significantly reduced the sales tax. The party of Dan Evans and Joel Pritchard is dead. In its place is a party full of extremists that stick their heads in the sand while appealing to religious extremists (who claim to be doing God’s work, but never stop to think about what Jesus said about helping the poor) and the rich who know they can’t take it with them. The latter don’t care about the future, and would happily build Easter Island statues of themselves while assigning the same fate to the world as that of the island.

    1. I’m a liberal Democrat who prefers something between this initiative and I-732, but I voted for I-732 (and will vote for this) because doing the right thing means making compromises. It’s also why I keep voting for Sound Transit and other transit measures even though I’m disappointed with a lot of the planning and implementation.

      Unfortunately, we have one political party (and most of its voters) who are unwilling to compromise on any issue, and are largely captured by interests that actively oppose protecting the environment and funding public goods like transit. It’s really hard to make anything fly when one entire wing of the bird is broken and diseased. Democrats may be feckless, cowardly, and often divided, but they are the only serious party in this country right now.

      1. I agree. The lack of good ideas from the Republican Party not only moves the country far to the right, but it makes it a lot more difficult for the Democrats to make good policy decisions. They are basically asked to do it alone. The ACA is a good example. Rather than try to improve it, the Republicans tried to dismantle it, despite the fact that it is essentially a Republican plan. There is no “sensible middle” — or at least, the sensible middle is occupied by the Democrats, which is not a good situation (especially since they are the minority party in every branch and every chamber and most states).

  6. I’m a strong supporter of dealing with climate change, and curbing greenhouse emissions is certainly a way to deal with it.
    The link to the initiative is long on stated benefits and supporters, and shy on how much this will cost, who pays what, and who will decide where all the money goes. This concerns me, so before pulling the yes lever, I’ll have to dig much deeper.
    Washington’s 7+ million residents each produce about 10 MT of carbon per year. That generates about a billion/yr the first year, rising to over $4b around 2050 if targets aren’t being met.
    In a perfect world, the most bang for the buck would apply, but I worry about a 15 member panel, appointed by whoever is in the Gov Seat will do the right thing. This could be a huge money grab for certain groups, leaving outlying counties holding the bag.
    What safeguards are in the initiative to prevent that?

    1. “who pays what”

      Well, it’s a charge on fossil fuels, so anybody who uses fossil fuels will pay in the form of the fees (directly) or higher prices. Hell of an incentive to get a home close to work or job close to home, to get ultra-efficient insulation in your home, to drive less, to install rooftop solar, and to invest in utility-scale solar, wind, and hydro. Also great incentive to buy locally-sourced, seasonal foods, (and other goods) since they will be subject to less transportation. There is a serious cost to the environment to live an hour from work, to driving your kids to every select sport and select music program in the region, to having homes that are insulated to 1920s standards, to purchasing goods produced in other far-flung countries, and to producing our electric with fossil fuels.

    2. The initiative is very clear on all of these points, and the answers to your questions are mostly in the article above.

    1. How do we build thousands of small scale wind and solar projects without costing a dime? Initiative 1631 raises the money to invest.

      1. Pretty sure I said “Not a dime of artificial stimulus”- opposition always says “Make-Work”. What I’m proposing is that the money 1631 would raise be spent wages and materials to build the widely-distributed small-scale power projects I think are less disaster-prone than present concentrated ones.

        Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) used public money to build and repair much infrastructure. I’m proposing to do this exactly, with same purpose of hiring people needing work to build badly-needed facilities. Don’t think Franklin Roosevelt was big on initiatives.

        Louisiana Governor Huey Long, very likely who people mistakenly thought they were getting when they voted Republican year before last, would’ve extorted it from the rich, and kept a lot for himself. Which people of the time either hoped or feared he’d do if he became President.


        A showman who actually was funny, at least he specialized in opponents who were bigger than himself. ‘Course these were the days when if an act really stunk, a theater employee would reach out from behind a curtain and dragged the offender off-stage, before the health department noticed the pile of dead cats. OK, use cute stuffed ones now but same perfume.


    1. It is not regressive. There will be little or no increase in energy prices for low income households. It will raise the money for the purposes of investing in the alternatives.

    2. This is the most progressive carbon fee yet. How can you possibly oppose it?

      And if all those people drove smaller vehicles they would save much more than the cost of the new fee. This initiative encourages that behavior by using the free market.

  7. Leadership seldom starts at the Federal level. Initiative-1631 will reduce pollution, create jobs, protect vulnerable populations and accelerate the transition to a clean-energy economy.

    It will reduce air pollution by 20 million tons/year in the State by cleaning up emissions from industrial polluters, and by deploying fleets of zero-emissions vehicles.

    Initiative 1631 will create 41,000 jobs by investing in renewable energy projects such as solar panels on schools and energy efficiency projects.

    The funds will come from a $15 per ton pollution fee imposed on major polluters such as power plants and refineries.

    There will be little or no increase in the cost of energy for low income households. Trade exposed energy intensive industries will be protected.

    According to the EPA, investments in clean air have yielded a return on investment of 30 to 1 in reduced health-care costs.

    Auto and diesel exhaust causes birth defects, cancer. The cost of special-ed is huge and one cancer death can cost a million dollars.

    Initiative 1631 is sponsored by the Washington State Labor Council because it will create jobs and mitigate the impacts to affected workers.

    Initiative 1631 is endorsed by social-justice organizations because it provides offsets to higher energy bills for low income households.

    I have an electric car and charge it with solar panels. Over its life, it will save 16,000 gallons of gasoline. I’ll never need to buy gasoline again.



  8. I preferred 732, but of course I’ll vote yes on 1631. I hope it passes, and the message to conservatives is that we’re going to address climate change with or without them, and if they don’t want all the fee money to go to a liberal slush fund, they need to actually participate. As pointed out upthread, it just plain dumb for conservatives to oppose the revenue-neutral 732, and this is what they get for making decisions on ridiculous ideology.

  9. Giant slush fund with vague priorities written by the interest groups they will benefit controlled by an unelected board? That’s gonna be a no from me. I campaigned for 732, but this, coming from the folks who poisoned the well on a transparent, revenue-neutral approach? Nope.

    1. I campaigned for 732, and didn’t think much of left / green folks who opposed it. But I’ll vote for this one. We need to start somewhere. Better a highly imperfect carbon tax than none at all.

      1. I find Yes, Prime Minister as relevant as ever:

        We must do something!

        This is something.

        Therefore, we must do this!

        Give me a transparent system that isn’t subject to politicians picking winners and you have my vote. This isn’t that.

      2. @Ron S,

        How is this not transparent? It is all laid out in fairly high detail.

        Or is it just that it involves “government”?

        Of course you could always formulate an initiative with less government involvement with the revenue going into the general fund, or maybe being used to offset B&O taxes, but that is sort of like the last one that got voted down for not being progressive enough.

        This measure is much better, and Trump has demonstrated the need for direct action — vote “Yes”

      3. I’m simpathetic on carbon and voted for 732. I can’t stomach the special interest money grab of this new initiative. It will be similar to the homeless industry’s money grab to expand their payroll and CEO’s and other’s salaries and kingdoms. The homeless money has nothing to show for it. This will have the same effect I’m afraid. I do like more expensive gas that equals greater public transit ridership. The billions will line the “charities”, “do gooders” pockets.

    2. If we collected a pollution fee and wrote a big check to Jeff Bezos, that would still be a policy win by reducing emissions. The fact that the money will be used to help poor people and further reduce emissions makes this great policy.

      The cut taxes strategy was tried and failed. So a vote against this is a vote to do nothing. It’s a shame you subordinate the climate to your other political priorities.

    3. If you really think we have too much big government made up of nonsensical slush funds and that this is a bigger problem than climate change you must work for the Koch brothers. Seriously, we are living in a time when the conservative dream of shrinking government to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub is disturbingly within sight. The corporate slush fund does indeed run over but public spending to combat climate change and reinforce our social safety nets is woefully inadequate.

      1. “Government isn’t the problem, government is the solution. “

        This is a perfect case in point. Nothing would get done to fight climate change without government involvement. This initiative will force the government to do certain things to fight climate change, and at its core it does this using free market principles.

      2. Not within sight. The libertarian goal is to eliminate 90% of government. . The only action has been on taxes and regulations that affect tbe business class and gutting social programs. A true libertarian state would get out of religion, cease the war on drugs, get out fo the way of free trade, support comprehensive immigration reform, abolish zoning, etc. Some libetarians have even supported environmental laws on the basis of “property rights for the fish and animals”.

  10. Thanks for the edit with instructions to clarify, Martin. I’d favor an effort to decentralize our power grid at all levels, stating with State, eliminating an existentially threatening chance that one failure could take down a whole section of the country, as has happened.

    My initiative would be to accomplish this Statewide with local efforts to employ locals to build wind, solar, and other renewable sources. Mentioned that in addition to the critical value of the task, this work can provide main thing missing in local relief attempts for people whose homes are under tarps and over wheels:

    Non-artificially-stimulated well-paid public service jobs for the thousands that private industry won’t touch. Which the Democrats and other pro-change forces would’ve won the 2012 and 2016 elections if they’d espoused. The power plants I’ve got in mind- to me, perfect workforce. Noted also how many job-skills can be learned at local community college trade-schools.

    Could just be the coffee-shops in driving-distance from Olympia, but I’m meeting many young people a couple years younger than 18, when you can be a legislator. Who are definitely in same defiant revolutionary mood that caught their elders by surprise in 1968.

    Hoodsport could use a sewage system, presently opposed by forces who think sewers attract immigrants who are illegal because they were born. These facilities can also generate local power which correctly composted, releases no emissions. No, Joe Hill…I’m not going there with “Nothing To Lose But Your Seats!”

    Mark Dublin

  11. What bother’s me about this initiative is how it pays no mention to folks that don’t have access to public transportation and who will get stuck paying higher transportation cost. The more rural a situation the bigger the rig must be for hauling supplies. These damn conservatives only have themselves to blame for feeding the liberals their electricity, food and other material goods, and damn their respective redneck politicians for trying to protect them from un-equitable cost.

    1. @les,

      We shouldn’t be willing to trash the planet just to protect a small minority’s energy intensive lifestyle choice. Nobody should be allowed to do their neighbors damage just for the sake of being able to drive a big truck or live far from their job.

      And let’s not forget, our electricity might come from E.WA, but E.WA doesn’t own those dams and they certainly never had the financial resources to build them. That money mainly came from those darn liberals in the big city.

      And just for the record, I’m originally from E.WA and I still spend a lot of time there. I still have family there in fact. Yet, for a variety of reasons that are probably off topic, I know that sometimes it is just best to have a statewide vote and let the westside ‘s view prevail. Because more often than not it is the right view.

    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmcMmYdF6lA

      les, some caution about assigning responsibility. In the world where the term originated, “Redneck” was an accurate physical description of a poor farmer of most likely Scots-Irish fair complexion, after years of field work stooped over in the sun. Usually as a “sharecropper” working himself to death for his rent on a rich man’s land. Between him and his landlord, none of his choice of politicians ever answered to him.

      Recent movie “The Free State of Jones” well illustrates that relationship. Taste of a roast dog pretty well says it. Reason I won’t dirty the term “Conservative” with any association with their rightful heirs and successors. “Slavers and Secesh (ionists)” was good enough for the Republicans behind the Union cannons, many of them Southerners themselves. And me too.

      But Lazarus, you’re not doing either your politics or our State any good by telling les to just get used to political defeat. Washington’s founders though a State containing much difference was best road to unity. And Eastern Washington used to be far ahead in worker-led politics. Tom Foley’s got successors. Les, stop selling yourself and your neighbors short, you deserve better, and should start to choose and vote accordingly.

      Really wish we’d had those double-pantographs in the late 1980’s when we spec’d out the Tunnel fleet. We could’ve already had the wire hung and the right of way groove-railed for easy transition between rubber tires and steel wheels without slacking speed.

      Mark Dublin

    3. Why don’t they have public transportation? In Europe every town has public transit, and you can’t build a factory without transit to reach it.

  12. A few good comments here, but, without meaning to ruffle any feathers, I’m really struck by the extreme privilege (which is a nice way of saying, in some cases, ignorance of others) on display here. Overstating things slightly for effect: there are people here who can’t imagine a town without public transportation or jobs that are not in factories; others are worried about trashing the planet over poor energy choices of people he can see but doesn’t seem interested in understanding people they can’t see; one, in spite of Eastern Washington origins — is unaware of the many public utility districts in Eastern Washington that built and operate public dams on their own dime, and is, I assume, unconcerned about what might be called energy colonialism inflicted in Eastern Washington by Western Washington; one immediately thinks people should just choose smaller vehicles, rather than have improved access to electric vehicles.

    1. OK Steve,

      With your viewpoint presumably free of such privilege, what is your approach to reduce Washington’s carbon emissions?

Comments are closed.