Carbon Tax Initiative is Filed

Analysis of the Carbon Tax Initiative 1631

The long title of the initiative is “AN ACT Relating to reducing pollution by investing in clean air, clean energy, clean water, healthy forests, and healthy communities and imposing a fee on large emitters based on their pollution; adding a new chapter to Title 70 RCW; and creating new sections.” Note that the title does not use the word “tax” but only “fee.” This is designed to avoid the tax stigma associated with the previous carbon tax initiative, I-732, which failed at the polls. A proposed short title is “Clean air – clean energy Act.”

The initiative would impose a fee, starting at $15 a ton of “carbon content,” escalating at a rate of $2 a ton per year plus inflation unless emissions goals are met: “Beginning January 1, 2020, the pollution fee on large emitters is equal to fifteen dollars per metric ton of carbon content. Beginning January 1, 2021, the pollution fee on large emitters increases by two dollars per metric ton of carbon content plus inflation each January 1st. The pollution fee will be fixed and no longer increase, except for annual increases for inflation, when the state’s 2035 greenhouse gas reduction goal, as it exists or as it is subsequently amended, is met and the state’s emissions are on a trajectory that indicates that compliance with the state’s 2050 goal is likely, as determined by the board.” It would impose this fee primarily on refineries and utilities.

The intent of the initiative is to reduce emissions, and it uses the following formulation to describe the goals: “The investment plans shall prescribe a competitive project selection process that results in a balanced portfolio of investments containing a wide range of technology, sequestration, and emission reduction solutions that efficiently and effectively reduce the state’s carbon emissions from 2018 levels by a minimum of twenty million metric tons by 2035 and a minimum of fifty million metric tons by 2050 while creating economic, environmental, and health benefits.” These would match approximately the goals enunciated in the law (RCW 70.235) of 25% reduction by 2035 and 50% by 2050. They would not, however, meet the more ambitious goals of 40% by 2035 and 80% by 2050 proposed in a bill this session (and demanded in a court case by Our Children’s Trust). The text does allow for revision of the goals if the current law changes.

There are a number of environmental justice provisions in the initiative. For example, it addresses investments in low-income communities: “There shall be sufficient investments made from the clean air and clean energy account to prevent or eliminate the increased energy burden of people with lower incomes as a result of actions to reduce pollution, including the pollution fees collected from large emitters under this chapter. At a minimum, fifteen percent of the clean air and clean energy account is dedicated to investments that directly reduce the energy burden of people with lower incomes.”

It also addresses a “just transition” of fossil fuel industry workers who might be displaced by clean energy: “Within four years of setting up the clean air and clean energy account, a minimum balance of fifty million dollars of the account shall be set aside, replenished annually, and maintained for a worker-support program for bargaining unit and non-supervisory fossil fuel workers who are affected by the transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.”

There are provisions for Native American groups: Begin Quote:

  • “Moneys in the account may not be used for projects that would violate tribal treaty rights or result in significant long-term damage to critical habitat or ecological functions. Investments from this account must result in long-term environmental benefit and increased resiliency to the impacts of climate change.”
  • “Relocating communities on tribal lands that are impacted by flooding and sea level rise.”
  • “Moneys in the account may not be used for projects that would violate tribal treaty rights or result in significant long-term damage to critical habitat or ecological functions. Investments from this account must result in long-term environmental benefit and increased resiliency to the impacts of climate change.”
  • “The environmental and economic justice panel must be co-chaired by one tribal leader and one person that is a representative of the interests of vulnerable populations in pollution and health action areas that are not tribal lands. In addition to the co-chairs, the panel shall consist of two members representing union labor with expertise in economic dislocation, clean energy economy, or energy-intensive trade-exposed industries and five members, including at least one tribal leader and at least two non-tribal leaders representing the interest of vulnerable populations in pollution and health action areas.” End Quote

In addition to reducing emissions, the fees would be used for environmental projects such as the following: Begin Quote:

  • Restore and protect estuaries, fisheries, and marine shoreline habitats, and prepare for sea level rise;
  • Increase the ability to remediate and adapt to the impacts of ocean acidification;
  • Reduce flood risk and restore natural floodplain ecological function;
  • Increase the sustainable supply of water and improve aquatic habitat, including groundwater mapping and modeling; or
  • Improve infrastructure treating stormwater from previously developed areas within an urban growth boundary designated under chapter 70A RCW, with a preference given to projects that use green stormwater infrastructure.
  • Enhancing community preparedness and awareness before, during, and after wildfires;
  • Developing and implementing resources to support fire suppression, prevention, and recovery for tribal communities impacted or potentially impacted by wildfires;
  • Relocating communities on tribal lands that are impacted by flooding and sea level rise; and
  • Developing and implementing education programs and teacher professional development opportunities at public schools to expand awareness of and increase preparedness for the environmental, social, and economic impacts of climate change and strategies to reduce pollution. End Quote.

Also, businesses and groups could on their own develop programs that would give them credits against the carbon fees that they would pay: “A qualifying light and power business or gas distribution business may claim credits for up to one hundred percent of the pollution fees for which it is liable under this chapter. Credits may be authorized for, and in advance of, investment in programs, activities, or projects consistent with a clean energy investment plan that has been approved by the utilities and transportation commission, for investor-owned utilities and gas distribution businesses, or the department of commerce, for consumer-owned utilities.”

From this text it is clear that the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy is aiming at inclusion of the largest number of groups to insure sufficient support to pass the initiative. Whether that strategy succeeds depends on how different groups see the balance of costs and benefits.

 

 

2 Replies to “Carbon Tax Initiative is Filed”

  1. Thank-you Bill for this excellent analysis. This is a very important initiative. It has over 190 endorsers has been carefully crafted to meet needs in the most effective equitable way. The Interfaith Power and Lights Earth Ministry is encouraging the faith based community to get behind this 110% There website contains useful information to reach out beyond the UU world. http://earthministry.org/advocacy/climate-and-energy/

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