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Inslee’s Carbon Tax Fails, But Supporters Have Already Filed An Initiative

Ted S. Warren, File
AP Photo
In this 2016, file photo, piles of wood chips sit near the RockTenn paper mill in Tacoma, Wash. Another ambitious effort to pass a carbon tax in Washington state has faltered as both Gov. Jay Inslee and the bill's prime sponsor conceded Thursday.

Legislation that would have made polluters pay by putting a tax on carbon emissions does not have enough votes to pass the Washington state legislature. That’s according to Governor Jay Inslee and the bill’s prime sponsor, speaking late Thursday.

But, less than a day later, backers of a carbon fee had already filed an initiative to the people in its place.

A broad coalition of environmental and community groups had been promising for months that they would file a voter’s initiative if Inslee’s carbon tax failed. They wasted no time Friday. Mike Stevens, Washington State Director for the Nature Conservancy says dozens of groups have been working together on this, including many that objected to a past initiative for a revenue neutral carbon tax. They’ve been convening broad-ranging conversations about the new initiative for more than three years.

“I think what we learned on the ground, in communities around the state, is that climate change is as much a human well-being issue as it is an environmental issue,” Stevens said.  “And I think the power of this coalition is that we are bringing together concern for both people and our wonderful environment here in Washington state.”

Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, said the solutions they’ve come up have the powerful backing of groups with a wide range of interests.

“It’s the broadest and deepest coalition that I’ve ever been involved in in Washington State in the 32 years I’ve been here. It is made up of organizations of color, faith-based groups, environmental groups, tribes, labor, public health, women’s groups – it’s really, really exciting,” Johnson said.

The new initiative puts a pollution reduction fee on carbon, not a tax. That’s an important distinction, backers say, because it means the revenue has to be invested in solutions to the pollution.

“So there’s a really tight connection between charging for pollution and then investing in reducing pollution,” said Becky Kelly, President of the Washington Environmental Council.

“Because we are going to be investing in communities across the state of Washington and making sure that as we make this transition to clean energy, that no one is left behind. “

The investments will include clean energy projects that create jobs or restoration work to make forests and rivers more resilient. Money would also go to communities disproportionately affected by climate impacts.

The fee would start at $15 per metric ton, beginning in Janary 2020. It would go up the next year by $2 per year until the state's 2035 greenhouse gas reduction goal is met and the state's emissions are on a trajectory that indicates compliance with the state's 2050 goal is likely.

The signature gathering is expected to start in early April for placement on the November Ballot.  

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