Washington state lawmakers propose carbon tax

Source: Ines Kagubare, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Washington state lawmakers last week introduced a new carbon tax proposal that would target the transportation sector.

The bill, known as “Forward Washington,” would impose a $15-per-metric-ton fee on carbon and generate about $7.9 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. The proposal is part of a massive $17 billion investment in environmental projects related to transportation and infrastructure.

“This is a huge investment into our environment here in Washington state,” said state Sen. Steve Hobbs (D), lead sponsor of the bill, which was introduced Thursday.

If the measure passes, it would make Washington the first state to impose a carbon tax by law. However, Washington legislators have struggled over the last few years to pass similar measures.

Last year, voters rejected a state ballot initiative that would have placed a carbon fee on the transportation sector. The measure would have taxed carbon starting at $15 per metric ton starting in 2020 and increasing by $2 per metric ton every year until 2035, with revenue going toward environmental projects (E&E Daily, Nov. 7, 2018).

Earlier in 2018, another carbon tax proposal died in the state Senate. That measure would have imposed a $12-per-metric-ton fee on carbon generated through the sale or use of fossil fuels such as gasoline and natural gas.

Hobbs said he opposed both of the previous measures because “the money was not accounted for” and did not directly tackle transportation and environmental issues. He added that the transportation sector makes up almost 50 percent of Washington’s carbon output, making it the state’s largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.

“If you’re going to do any carbon policy it should come back to transportation and go to projects that affect our environment,” Hobbs said.

Under the new bill, revenue from the carbon fee would go toward transportation projects, the removal of fish passage barriers, stormwater improvements and energy grid upgrades, among other things.

The bill package also includes a 6-cents-per-gallon increase to the fuel tax, which is expected to generate about $2 billion in revenue that would go toward infrastructure projects, including state highway improvement and maintenance, traffic operations, and debt service repayment on related capital investments.

The increase would raise the state’s fuel tax from 49.4 cents per gallon to 55.4 cents per gallon. Currently, Washington has the second-highest fuel tax in the country after Pennsylvania, which imposes a tax of 58.2 cents per gallon.

Hobbs said he has received bipartisan support for his bill.

“It’s kind of like the ‘Green New Deal’ except for Washington state,” Hobbs said, referring to progressives’ national climate proposal.