WA State Carbon Tax Initiative: I-732 Needs a Vote from You

I-732 is an initiative on the ballot here in Washington state calling for a revenue neutral carbon tax (it lowers other taxes at the same time it raises a tax on fossil fuels), and it needs and deserves your support.  Here’s how it reads on the ballot:

This measure would impose a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel generated electricity, reduce the sales tax by one percentage point and increase a low-income exemption, and reduce certain manufacturing taxes.

And here is how the NY Times summarized it in an Op-Ed written in support of this initiative:

[I-732] would impose a tax on greenhouse gas emissions generated by fossil fuels like petroleum, gas and coal. The tax would start at $15 per metric ton next year, increase to $25 a ton in 2018 and then rise gradually over a few decades until it hits $100 a ton in 2016 dollars. (A typical passenger car emits about five metric tons of carbon dioxide in a year.) The money raised by the tax would go to lowering the state sales tax, effectively eliminating a business tax on manufacturers and giving up to $1,500 in tax credits to low-income residents.

Climate scientists and economists have long said that one of the best ways to fight climate change is to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions and raise that price over time, which would encourage the switch to cleaner energy sources, like solar and wind. The initiative’s approach is based on a carbon tax that British Columbia put in place in 2008. Ireland and Sweden also have such taxes.

The Washington proposal would be the first in the country and could well set an example for other states.

James Hansen, perhaps the most respected and famous climate scientist and activist, has said for years that a carbon tax and dividend program is the best way to fight climate change – much more effective than the common “cap and trade” schemes politicians like to promote. Hansen is a very strong supporter of the WA state initiative.  From his op-ed in the Seattle Times:

…The most efficient way to phase out fossil fuels is a steadily rising carbon fee collected from fossil-fuel companies and distributed uniformly to the public. The public should support this “carbon fee and dividend.” Wealthy people will pay more in increased prices than they receive in the dividend. However, economic studies show that carbon fee-and-dividend spurs the economy, increases the gross national product, creates millions of jobs and rapidly reduces fossil-fuel use. Most people would come out ahead.

So why did nations from Australia to Europe and states such as California adopt an ineffectual and bureaucratic cap-and-trade system? In a word: politics. Seven years ago, then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry admitted to me that a fee-and-dividend policy was a better approach. But in words that still ring in my ears, he said, “I can’t get one vote for that.” Instead, liberals pushed for Waxman/Markey cap and trade, with votes bought and paid for by giveaways to special interests, the bill stretching to more than 2,000 pages.

Conservatives — and I, in congressional testimony — brand cap and trade as “cap and tax,” because it raises the price of energy for the public with the money used to grow government. Australians dumped the government that adopted cap and trade and rescinded the bill. California’s bureaucratic program, after 10 years, has had a vanishing effect on emissions — worse than the average of the other 49 states.

I-732 has not been compromised by special interests. Instead of giving the funds collected from fossil-fuel companies to the public, it would reduce the sales tax 15 percent — from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent — and funds a Working Families Tax Credit for low-income families. Energy prices would rise, but the measure would induce investments in clean energy, giving Washington a head start in technology competition.

I-732 is the product of a lean group of committed people who gathered 350,000 signatures, even in the absence of support from certain “Big Green” environmental groups that remain eager to work with special interests that benefit from cap-and-trade and tax-and-spend schemes.

For the sake of government transparency, and to provide an example for other states and the rest of the world, but most of all for young people, future generations and nature, vote “yes” on I-732.

To conclude, I’ll share a portion of an email that has been going around a bit, and that perfectly expresses my thoughts (and my frustrations) around this issue. Note the reference below to the analysis of Sightline Institute. If you have any doubts about whether or not to support this issue, please delve into the Sightline analysisFrom Kristy Royce:

“…I want to make sure you hear the whole story. We are within striking distance of passing this! And this is a BIG DEAL!

So … a carbon tax. Under normal circumstances, no email would be required. Carbon tax? Yes, of course! We’ve been waiting decades for this! We’ve known for years that this is the single most effective policy to tackle climate change.

But this is not a normal time.

You may have heard that many of the progressive and green groups are not supporting I-732. You may have seen Fuse’s Progressive Voter Guide that advises a No vote on I-732. How is this possible?

That is some crazy talk!

The politics around I-732 are complicated*, but the short version is this: The groups opposing I-732 oppose it for one main reason: it is revenue neutral. In other words, it’s a carbon tax that won’t bring in any additional revenue, because it lowers other taxes at the same time it raises a tax on fossil fuels.

These groups are so committed to the idea that a carbon tax should raise new revenue that they’re willing to kill the strongest climate policy in North America over it. They’re even willing to trot out the same lies that right wing opponents always use against environmental initiatives: in the official Voters’ pamphlet, they have the audacity to call it a “job killer” and say that “it will not significantly address climate change.”

Here’s what Sightline, the Pacific Northwest’s premier progressive think tank had to say about I-732:

“I-732 would launch Washington to a position of global leadership on climate action. By implementing a pollution price, rising steadily for four decades and keeping pace with inflation thereafter, I-732 would reorient Washington’s economy away from fossil fuels and toward low-carbon options. The price would be simple to administer and would cover most of the state’s pollution. By reducing Washington’s regressive state sales tax and funding tax credits for working families, I-732 would make the state tax code more progressive.”

“Taken on whole, for us at Sightline, and judged exclusively on the basis of policy, not politics or political strategy, the policy’s flaws are cause for concern but are dwarfed by I-732’s potential benefits.”

If you’re still unsure, read the whole meticulous analysis (fyi, they refute the supposed “budget hole” that I-732 would create):

Weighing CarbonWa’s Tax Swap Initiative
Does I-732 Really Have a “Budget Hole”?
Weighing the Critiques of CarbonWA’s I-732

You can tell from the way they wrote the piece that they’re bending over backwards to avoid pissing off all their allies on the left. But facts are facts.

Please join me in supporting I-732 and helping to spread the word. Please vote YES for climate action!


* The complication is mainly around the involvement of environmental justice, climate justice, and social justice groups representing communities of color. I’m not in any way minimizing the importance of the issues they’re raising. But I deeply believe that opposing I-732 over these issues is a huge mistake. As so often, perfect is the enemy of good, and I believe that to be the case here.”