VOTERS REJECT STATE CARBON TAX INITIATIVE

Story by Rebekah Way | Photo by Nic Ulmer

Ballots sit in bins at the Whatcom County Audior’s Office on Nov. 8, 2016.

The second attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through legislation in Washington state fell flat this election season.

State voters rejected Initiative 732, which sought to tax carbon emissions. Despite being the first carbon tax initiative in the United States, I-732 received little support from environmental groups, and nearly 60 percent of voters opposed the measure, according to preliminary results.

The measure would have reduced Washington’s carbon emissions by about 2 percent each year, according to Carbon Washington, the organization that introduced the initiative. Washington’s carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions totaled 92 million metric tons in 2012, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology. Had the initiative passed, Washington’s sales tax would have decreased by half a penny per dollar spent, while taxing carbon polluters $15 per ton starting in 2017, eventually rising to $100 per ton of carbon emitted.

Washington voters represented a mindset spreading across the nation and the world, indicating people are concerned about climate change and want to take action, according to a statement released by Carbon Washington. The group also acknowledged its grassroots supporters, citing itself as the largest effort to educate voters on climate change in Washington state. The campaign reached nearly one million voters by phone, and over 100,000 through canvassing, according to Carbon Washington’s statement.

The measure was introduced around the time of Gov. Jay Inslee’s carbon cap-and-trade proposal, which he failed to get through the Legislature in 2015.

The Carbon Pollution Accountability Act, a part of Inslee’s proposal, would have put a limit on carbon emissions and fined major polluters to avoid increasing future emissions. It would have generated $1 billion each year, which would have gone toward transportation, education and supporting disadvantaged communities, according to Inslee’s website.

I-732 planned to direct money toward low-income working families through a tax rebate. This 8-year-old program had never been funded, but I-732 would have provided $1,500 to 460,000 low-income working families each year, Samara Villasenor, a spokesperson from the Yes On 732 campaign, said in an email.

However, some opponents didn’t think this was enough. Members of the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club argued the initiative disregarded those who feel the impacts of pollution and climate change most: communities of color and low-income people. The group said it fell short of its goal to create an equitable climate policy, according to a statement it released in September 2016.

Other opponents, like the group No On 732, warned of a higher gas tax, increased utility costs straining household budgets and a state revenue loss of $800 million that could take money from investments in education and health care.

After I-732, Carbon Washington hopes to put a price on carbon through the state Legislature, and to be an example to other states, according to its statement.

“The world is warming at an alarming rate,” Villasenor said. “And putting an effective price on carbon emissions is the single most important thing we can do to reverse this trend.”