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Carbon Initiative Key Issue As Lawmakers Reconvene In Olympia

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, center, stands on a bike and pedestrian path that borders state highway 99 in Seattle's South Park neighborhood in 2014 as he talks with Rhonda Kaetzel, second from left, a toxicologist with King County.

How to limit the carbon pollution that causes climate change and global warming is a key issue as lawmakers get going in Olympia this week. Dozens of legislative proposals have been submitted on the topic, some with multiple versions that use very minor changes in wording in attempts to see which proposals would have the best chances of passing.

One of the first written is Initiative 732, the proposal from a group called Carbon Washington, which canvassed for signatures from the public all last year and submitted its final haul at the end of the year for a total of more than 350,000 -- more than enough to qualify.

But the chances of success for the proposal may be undermined by lack of consensus among environmentalists.

I-732 would put a tax on carbon, similar to the one in place in British Columbia.

“We hit 350,000 signatures maybe in the middle of December, so that’s behind us,” said Yoram Bauman, who had stored the boxes in his home garage in Seattle. He knows the challenges ahead in Olympia are not insignificant.


Now the proposal is moving forward and must either pass the legislature or, if that fails, a vote by the people in November.

Bauman is convinced it will succeed because it is revenue neutral, unlike the most prominent of competing ideas, which would use carbon policy to find ways to raise money for other programs, including education. Bauman says I-732 doesn’t do that.


“It replaces part of the state sales tax with a carbon tax, so fossil fuels will cost a little bit more, everything else will cost a little bit less,” he said.


But right now, many observers think I-732’s chances are slim because of its repeated use of the word “tax” in the proposal’s language.


Its biggest competitor is the Alliance For Jobs And Clean Energy, which includes most mainstream environmental groups, as well as big labor and social justice organizations representing people of color who are most impacted by climate pollution.


Becky Kelley is a founding member of the coalition and the president of the statewide Washington Environmental Council. She says it was a huge disappointment when after much discussion and pressure from some politicians, Carbon Washington decided in late December not to join the alliance, instead forging ahead independently with I-732.


“It’s important to remember, making the transition to a clean energy economy involves taking on some of the most powerful companies in the world: oil companies," Kelley said.


“We have to beat big oil. And when you pick a fight with big oil, you better bring a lot of friends. That’s the organizing principle that brought the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy together.”


She expects opponents to be ruthless in their attempts to stop this transition to clean energy. "And that’s a big fight and you need a big, broad team," she said.


Remember what happened with policies such as GMO food labeling, which was clobbered by out of state money spent on attack ads, Kelley said, adding that the splintering on carbon policies could lead to political deals attempting to roll back important environmental policies such as subsidies for alternative energy or local regulation of toxic pollution.


Even with this lack of consensus, most businesses know that limiting carbon will be a necessity; some are already calculating their footprints in anticipation of whichever policy makes it through.


For his part, Bauman says Carbon Washington couldn’t let go of their policy, once they reexamined it. He insists it has a decent shot at passing, if not the legislature, once voters get to it in November. And he says the job of Washington state, where (because of hydropower) carbon pollution is lower than in many other places, is to demonstrate great local policy, even if the carbon levels it reaches initially are not as aggressive as some activists would prefer.


Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to