Carbon pricing could be on the ballot in Washington state


Quinault Indian Nation Vice President Tyson Johnston spoke at a rally on May 10 in support of I-1631.

By Jamie DeMarco

Jamie DeMarco, CCL’s State-Level Carbon Pricing Coordinator

As we push forward for national carbon pricing legislation, one promising area of progress is state policies. I am working every day with CCL volunteers across the country to help enact carbon pricing legislation at the state level with the ultimate goal of strengthening momentum for national carbon fee and dividend legislation. In Washington, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, D.C., and Utah, CCL is actively engaging in campaigns and helping to blaze a trail that Congress can follow.

We are also partnering with Climate XChange and former head of Carbon Washington, Yoram Bauman, to run a legislative incubator for volunteers. This is a seven-week online course where participants learn from national experts on the policy and politics of carbon pricing. Participants from Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New Jersey will finish the course with the skills to get carbon pricing bills introduced 2019, further spreading the carbon pricing wildfire.

As we do this work, CCL is careful to only support state-level carbon pricing policies that meet four criteria:

  • They are designed to be effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions beyond existing policies.
  • They will protect low income households from price increases.
  • They are politically viable for the state.
  • They will harmonize with a federal Carbon Fee and Dividend and other state carbon pricing.

Enacting a carbon tax in the U.S. will be a huge leap forward because right now there is not a single state in the country that has a meaningful tax on carbon emissions. While California and 10 Northeastern states have cap and trade programs, the effective price on carbon from those policies fluctuates between $15/ton and just below $5/ton. However, on Nov. 6, 2018, voters in Washington state will choose on the ballot whether to enact initiative 1631, which could be our country’s first state-level carbon tax.

Comparing I-1631 to CF&D

Initiative 1631 does not align entirely with the revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend approach that CCL is committed to at the federal level. While the revenue raised through utilities is effectively rebated, the revenue raised on other emissions will be spent on programs that help the poor and reduce emissions, but that also grow government.

I have heard from both liberals and conservatives that being revenue neutral is an important part of CCL policy. I want to emphasize that at the national level CCL is as committed as ever to a revenue neutral bill. However, at the state level, we are supporting bills that match our values even if they are not revenue neutral.

In fact, passing state legislation that differs from our national policy puts pressure on Congress to act. Companies would rather comply with one simple national carbon price than juggle half a dozen different state carbon prices. It also pressures conservative members of Congress to enact a revenue neutral carbon price before progressive states pass revenue positive bills. Ironically, differing from our policy at the state level will help pass our policy in Congress.

After a careful analysis of initiative 1631, Washington CCL issued a statement of support for the policy. Following their lead, CCL national now actively supports the passage of 1631.

Time to act

We know that now is not the time to sit on the sidelines in Washington state. Now is the time to act, and help get this policy over the finish line. First, we need to help collect the 260,000 signatures needed by July 1 to get this policy on the ballot, and then we need to help make sure it passes in November.

I am based in DC, but I will be traveling out to Washington for two weeks in June to help collect signatures. Would you like to join me in traveling to Washington? I hear it is beautiful this time of year. If you can’t make the trip but know someone in Washington, reach out to them and ask them to help collect signatures. I called my old college roommate in Washington, and now he has collected hundreds of signatures.

If you live in Washington, there isn’t a minute to lose! Let’s get out there and start collecting signatures. You or your friends can plug into signature gathering events. Keep up with the campaign’s progress and spread the word by following and sharing posts by Yes On 1631 on Twitter and Facebook.

CCL remains laser focused on passing revenue neutral national carbon fee and dividend legislation. To that end, I hope you will help pass 1631 in Washington state and raise the tide of political will that will lift all carbon pricing boats.

Jamie DeMarco is the State-Level Carbon Pricing Coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.