The Energy 202: Voters in Washington state will soon decide whether to tax carbon emissions

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A man twirls a young child on a waterfront park as downtown Seattle disappears in a smoky haze behind, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

My colleague Steven Mufson reports on an important story happening in the other Washington, where voters in eight days will consider a ballot measure that would make them the first state in the country to tax carbon emissions causing climate change. From his piece:

The drive has sparked a fight for votes that pits big oil refiners against a coalition of environmental groups, unions, Native American groups, communities of color, liberal business leaders like Bill Gates, and Gov. Jay Inslee (D).

The battle has already set a new Washington state record for spending on a ballot issue. The Clean Air Clean Energy coalition to say “yes” on the ballot has raised nearly $14.8 million, including $1 million each from Gates and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Big oil companies belonging to the Western States Petroleum Association — including Koch Industries — have given $26.2 million, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission …

Win or lose, Washington’s Initiative 1631 is a case study in how thorny the politics of carbon pricing can be — starting with the name. Calling it a tax might please economists, but could be fatal politically. The measure’s supporters call it a fee.

Bill Gates (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Steve writes this proposal might be different — and possibly more successful — than previous ones because it has drawn the support of a variety of stakeholders, including a key state labor leader:

The measure would exempt eight energy-intensive manufacturing plants, pour fee revenue into clean energy projects, fund training and early retirement plans for affected workers, and create an appointed board that would allocate revenue in the future.

One of the exempted facilities is the biggest emitter of all, a coal-fired power plant owned by TransAlta, which had already agreed to close its plant by 2025.

Oil refiners “would have to pay,” however:

The Western States Petroleum Association said that “climate change should be addressed at national and international levels” and that state-level policy “would have a negligible impact on mitigating climate change but could have a significant negative impact on our state’s businesses.” It said that the carbon fee would initially boost gasoline prices about 14 cents a gallon.

The oil companies have set up an organization called No-on-1631 whose spokeswoman Dana Bieber took aim at exemptions, especially the coal plant. Inslee, however, said that to do otherwise would violate the contractual agreement to close the plant. Moreover, the objective of the fee is to change behavior, not raise money …

Outside the petroleum industry, many executives have backed the initiative.

‘You may be skeptical about this idea. I know I was. How can one state make a difference on a global problem like climate change?’ Gates wrote in an open letter. ‘But I overcame my doubts.’ He called climate change the ‘toughest problem humanity has ever faced’ and said the initiative would send a ‘clear market signal.’