Wash­ing­ton vot­ers to de­cide on na­tion’s first car­bon tax

Call for slap­ping di­rect car­bon tax on burn­ing fos­sil fu­els

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Wash­ing­ton law­mak­ers have tried and failed in re­cent years to make pol­luters pay for their car­bon emis­sions to fight cli­mate change. Now, vot­ers will get to de­cide. An ini­tia­tive on the Novem­ber bal­lot asks vot­ers whether the state should im­pose the na­tion’s first di­rect car­bon tax on the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els such as coal and gaso­line.

Spon­sors say res­i­dents have a moral re­spon­si­bil­ity to curb green­house gas emis­sions, and a car­bon tax is the best way to do it. The tax en­cour­ages busi­nesses to con­serve or switch to clean en­ergy by mak­ing fos­sil fu­els more ex­pen­sive, and it makes the tax sys­tem fairer by us­ing the rev­enues to re­duce other taxes, they say. Busi­nesses say the tax will drive up fuel and en­ergy costs and put Wash­ing­ton com­pa­nies at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage.

And in a move that has bewil­dered some, ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal and other groups - in­clud­ing those that backed Gov. Jay Inslee’s pro­posal last year to cap emis­sions and make car­bon pol­luters pay - op­pose the ini­tia­tive. They say it takes the wrong ap­proach.

Yo­ram Bau­man, an econ­o­mist who founded Car­bon Wash­ing­ton, the grass­roots group that gath­ered more than 350,000 sig­na­tures to qual­ify Ini­tia­tive 732, de­fended it as great cli­mate and tax pol­icy. “It does al­most ev­ery­thing right for Wash­ing­ton,” he said.

Audubon Wash­ing­ton sup­ports it. “Our mem­bers came down on the side of ur­gency. We don’t have time to wait,” said Gail Gat­ton, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “Cli­mate change is hap­pen­ing, and this is our best avail­able op­tion right now to pro­tect birds.”

Car­bon-pric­ing

But the Sierra Club, Wash­ing­ton En­vi­ron­men­tal Coun­cil and the advocacy group Front and Cen­tered say the ini­tia­tive is the wrong car­bon-pric­ing ap­proach and will hurt the state’s rev­enues. Whereas Inslee’s pol­lu­tion fee would have raised money for ed­u­ca­tion, trans­porta­tion, clean en­ergy and pro­grams to help dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by cli­mate change, Ini­tia­tive 732 pro­vides no such in­vest­ments, crit­ics say. “It’s not a path that makes sense for our com­mu­ni­ties,” said Rich Stolz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of One Amer­ica, which works on so­cial jus­tice is­sues. Stolz said the ini­tia­tive ig­nores cli­mate jus­tice and lacks in­put from com­mu­ni­ties of color.

Stolz’s group is part of a coali­tion that worked on an al­ter­na­tive car­bon-pric­ing mea­sure. Last­minute talks be­tween that coali­tion and I-732 sup­port­ers to col­lab­o­rate on one bal­lot mea­sure fiz­zled last year. The ini­tia­tive is de­signed to be rev­enue neu­tral, mean­ing the tax rev­enue in­crease from fos­sil fu­els would be mostly off­set by de­creases in other taxes. In this case, rev­enues would be re­turned to peo­ple and busi­nesses by cut­ting the state sales tax by one point, vir­tu­ally elim­i­nat­ing busi­ness taxes for man­u­fac­tur­ers and pro­vid­ing re­bates for work­ing fam­i­lies, spon­sors say.

A state anal­y­sis, how­ever, es­ti­mates the mea­sure could cost the state about $800 mil­lion in lost rev­enues over the first six fis­cal years. Ini­tia­tive spon­sors dis­pute the state’s anal­y­sis, say­ing it dou­ble-counted the re­bates in the first year. The car­bon tax is mod­eled af­ter one in the nearby Cana­dian prov­ince of Bri­tish Columbia. Cal­i­for­nia has a cap-and-trade pro­gram, which lim­its emis­sions and al­lows car­bon pol­luters to buy and trade pol­lu­tion cred­its. If ap­proved, Wash­ing­ton’s car­bon tax starts at $15 a ton of car­bon emis­sions in July, goes up to $25 the next year and in­cre­men­tally in­creases af­ter­ward.

The Wash­ing­ton State Tree Fruit As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents grow­ers, pack­ers and mar­keters, is among those op­posed. It takes a lot of fuel to grow and trans­port pro­duce, and the tax will be paid by those in the state, not com­peti­tors out­side it, said Jon De­vaney, the group’s pres­i­dent.

“Rais­ing food prices in Wash­ing­ton state will make us less com­pet­i­tive com­pared to others,” he said.

Ini­tia­tive spon­sors say a $25 car­bon tax would raise the price of gaso­line by about 25 cents per gal­lon and the price of coal-fired elec­tric­ity by about 2.5 cents per kilo­watt-hour. They say power plants and fuel sup­pli­ers likely will pass those costs on to con­sumers, but that con­sumers will see price re­duc­tions in other things they buy be­cause the sales tax is cut. The tax wouldn’t ap­ply to elec­tric­ity from re­new­ables like hy­dro, wind or so­lar power.

The cam­paign has raised $1.2 mil­lion from nearly 1,200 unique donors; more than half of those to­tal con­tri­bu­tions are un­der $200. The No on 732 cam­paign spon­sored by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Wash­ing­ton Busi­ness has raised $300,000 to op­pose the tax. —AP

WASH­ING­TON: Car­bon Wash­ing­ton cam­paign or­ga­nizer Ben Silesky, left, leads a group of sup­port­ers and or­ga­ni­za­tion mem­bers into the Elec­tions Of­fice for the Wash­ing­ton Sec­re­tary of State in Olympia, Wash­ing­ton to de­liver sig­na­tures in sup­port of putting Ini­tia­tive 732 on the bal­lot. — AP

WASH­ING­TON: A Te­soro Corp re­fin­ery, in­clud­ing a gas flare flame that is part of nor­mal plant op­er­a­tions, is shown in Ana­cortes, Wash­ing­ton af­ter a fa­tal overnight fire and ex­plo­sion. — AP

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