In response to my previous post, in which I voiced my strong support for I-732, I’ve heard back from several friends who echoed and applauded my position. I’ve also heard from three respected friends who have voted against, or are considering voting against the initiative.
This is the WA state tax swap ballot initiative that Sightline Institute has declared “would give Washington the continent’s, if not the world’s, most potent, persistent, and comprehensive incentive to move swiftly beyond dirty fossil fuels and to a carbon-free future.”
It’s an initiative that has the support of over 50 climate scientists at UW, as well as numerous economists.
So why would some of my climate change concerned friends consider voting against this initiative? Allow me to address the concerns my friends raised with me.
Argument # One is that a recent report coming out of British Columbia has shown in the ten years of having implemented a carbon tax, emission have actually gone up in the province.
The “recent report” was not referenced to a source, so I performed a quick online search. I found a December 2015 report by the Carbon Tax Center, British Columbia’s Carbon Tax: By the Numbers. This report found that “The 12.9% decrease in British Columbia’s per capita emissions in 2008-2013 compared to 2000-2007 was three-and-a-half times as pronounced as the 3.7% per capita decline for the rest of Canada. This suggests that the carbon tax caused emissions in the province to be appreciably less than they would have been, without the carbon tax.”
Note that the chart above provides not only the change in emissions in BC after the tax went into effect, but puts their numbers in context, comparing to the rest of Canada, and also giving us emissions per capita, AND per GDP.
A caveat in the report tells us that “GHG emissions increased in British Columbia in 2012 and again in 2013, not just in absolute terms but also per capita. This suggests that the carbon tax needs to resume its annual increments (the last increase was in 2012; its bite has since been eroded by inflation) if emissions are to begin again their downward track.”
This means not that emissions were increasing beyond the pre-tax levels, but, as the other chart here makes clear, that the downward trajectory had reversed course and was beginning to creep up again. Note the reason: The BC tax was frozen at 2012 levels. The proposed initiative for WA state does not have this defect – see below.
After more digging online, I think I found the report my friend was referring to. The report above was prepared by an organization biased in favor of the carbon tax approach. This second report, by Food and Water Watch, has a bias against market based solutions to climate change. You can find their report, “The British Columbia Carbon Tax: A Failed Market Based Solution to Climate Change,” here. This report skews the numbers a bit by ignoring the dramatic drop in emissions that occurred during the first 6 months of the tax, because it was not a full year, and because they attribute the decline to the recession rather than the carbon tax. So it comes down to what period of time is measured, as they admit: “It largely depends when the change is measured: The taxed emissions decline was more than 10 percent from the 2004 peak to 2012, but that includes many falling years before the carbon tax was enacted; the decline was 2.2 percent from 2008 to 2014, but the tax was in effect only for the second half of 2008.”
In addition, this second report does not give us the context against the rest of Canada, nor the per capita and per GDP numbers.
I’ll admit that I haven’t spent a lot of time comparing the validity claims of the two contrasting reports, but the links are there for those who want to dive deep. What does stand out to me is that the first report (“By the Numbers“) gives us a long trend comparison between BC and the other Canadian provinces, and I think this mitigates other factors such as the recession and is a more robust and fairer overall report.
However, there are others much more skilled at analyzing data than I, and they devote much more time and resources – we’re lucky to have the Sightline Institute in the Pacific Northwest for this purpose.
Like the “By the Numbers” report, Sightline agrees that the real weakness of the BC tax is that it was frozen in 2012. In contrast, according to Sightline, the CarbonWA plan of “setting the price’s rising trajectory all the way to 2059 would vault Washington to the head of the North American pack on climate leadership. Other North American carbon prices are not yet high enough nor sustained enough to achieve climate-stabilizing pollution reductions…I-732 would give Washington the continent’s, if not the world’s, most potent, persistent, and comprehensive incentive to move swiftly beyond dirty fossil fuels and to a carbon-free future.”
The second argument from my friends is in two parts: a) oil and gas companies are supporting this initiative because it would give tax breaks to corporations and instead (b) will put the burden of a carbon tax on the low income working class (and the rest of the public consumers).
a) I have found no evidence that oil and gas companies are supporting I-732. Again, according to Sightline, the tax “covers pollution from burning fossil fuels, including gasoline, diesel, aircraft fuels, refinery and industrial operations, natural gas, and coal or natural gas burned in power plants in-state, and in plants out-of-state when they deliver electricity to Washington homes and businesses.”