Washington advocacy groups weigh in on Gov. Inslee’s carbon pricing push
By Flannery Winchester
Last week, we reported that a new carbon cap and dividend bill has hit both houses of Congress. That national move is exciting, and it comes on the heels of a wave of state-level action that deserves celebration as well. From carbon pricing bills in the Massachusetts and Vermont state legislatures all the way to a push from Washington state’s Gov. Jay Inslee, carbon pricing initiatives keep popping up across the country.
After Washington’s unsuccessful ballot measure I-732 in 2016, though, where is this particular effort headed? We caught up with some advocates on the ground in Washington to find out.
Gov. Inslee announced a carbon pricing proposal in his State of the State address earlier this year. The price would be set at $20 per ton, rising over time. “The billions of dollars raised would support clean-energy projects, work to improve floodwater management and reduce risks of wildfires, and assistance to offset the tax’s impact on low-income communities,” reported the Seattle Times.
In the Washington Senate, this bill is known as SB 6203. Since Inslee’s announcement last month, the bill has gone through a few changes and made some progress through the legislature.
On Monday of this week, the bill moved out of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee and has been referred to the Ways and Means Committee, though it is not yet scheduled.
Several changes were made, such as reducing the initial price from $20 per ton to $10 per ton, exempting 56 businesses that are considered “energy intensive and trade-exposed industries,” and incorporating new provisions for low-income communities, vulnerable populations, and tribal governments. Some adjustments were also made to the plans for revenue usage, such as $30 million newly designated for rural broadband strategy development.
A hopeful moment
“There are several reasons for optimism,” says Louise Stonington, CCL’s Washington state coordinator. “In 2016, hundreds of volunteers gathered signatures for Initiative I-732, which got 40% of the vote and would have put a tax on carbon fuels, lowered sales taxes and funded rebates for low income households.” Though the measure ultimately didn’t pass, Stonington explains, “Their activity substantially increased public awareness of carbon pricing as a way of reducing carbon pollution.”
Now, Gov. Inslee’s proposal arrives amid favorable political conditions. “Both houses of the state legislature are controlled by the party that has declared, ‘We must proactively address climate change as a crisis,’” Stonington says. “The elected Commissioner of Public Lands has called for carbon pricing, pointing out the threat of climate change to the state’s valuable resources in forests, agriculture and fisheries.” Plus, she added, the public won’t soon forget the smoke and darkened skies from wildfires across Washington and British Columbia last summer.
CCL’s 20 chapters across Washington will continue to use the levers of political will to engage with legislators and educate the public. One example of their work is last fall’s “Water, Wind & Fire Tour” across the state in conjunction with Audubon Washington, which resulted in hundreds of new members in rural areas.
Ultimately, Stonington says, “We will study and weigh in on specifics of the proposal and work to pass legislation that is effective, economically sound, and fair.”
Advocacy groups are invested in success
Jason Merges, the Communications and Digital Director for Washington’s Alliance for Clean Jobs and Energy says, “Governor Inslee has long been a climate champion. We appreciate his leadership as he and other elected officials work to respond to what the people want—more clean energy and vibrant communities, and cutting global warming pollution.”
Merges says, “We are actively working with Governor Inslee and legislative allies to strengthen the bill.” As they do, AJCE will push for a final policy that:
- Invests in reducing pollution through clean energy solutions
- Makes Washington’s communities more resilient in the face of growing climate impacts like flooding and fire
- Centers those hardest hit by pollution and ensures those communities are cleaner and economically stronger
- Commits to giving Washington’s workers a just transition to a clean energy economy
“2018 is the year for effective and equitable climate action and to pass a policy that makes Washington a model for states across the country,” Merges says. If the legislature does not pass a bill the ACJE considers meaningful, he says they will work to put “effective and equitable” climate policy on the ballot in November.
Kyle Murphy, the Executive Director of the grassroots advocacy group Carbon Washington, calls Inslee’s plan “an ambitious opening bid that gets many of the big pieces right.” He adds, “This is the best proposal we’ve ever seen out of the governor’s office.”
In terms of this specific proposal, Murphy points out one new idea, called “utility retrained revenue.” He explains, “This would let utilities keep the money raised from their portion of the carbon tax, provided the utilities spend it on clean energy or low income bill support in their sector. This is almost a creative spin on revenue neutrality—it doesn’t grow government, it helps to lower costs, and it’s turned utilities from opponents to soft allies in the discussion.”
Overall, Murphy says, “We’re on board. We are going to work with legislators to refine and improve the policy to ensure it’s effective at cutting carbon, equitable to low income people, and accountable to voters.” The next Carbon Washington lobby day related to this bill will be February 19.