State groups push carbon-pricing ballot measure

By Phuong Le

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — One day after a carbon tax bill stalled in the state Legislature, a coalition of environmental, community and labor groups filed a proposed citizens’ initiative that would put a price on carbon emissions.

Saying voters, communities and businesses want strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, initiative sponsors, who filed the proposed initiative Friday, want to ask voters in November to charge large emitters such as power plants and refineries.

They’ll first need to collect nearly 260,000 valid voters’ signatures by July 6 to certify the measure for the November ballot.

Aiko Schaefer, who directs Front and Centered, one of the initiative backers, said the measure would hold corporate polluters accountable while investing in solutions that protect health, water and forests.

The proposal would charge $15 per metric ton of carbon content of fossil fuels and electricity sold or used in the state starting in 2020. It would increase by $2 a year in 2021 until the state meets its carbon emissions reduction goal for 2035.

Backers say money raised would be spent on strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including projects for renewable energy, forests and other natural resources.

Other sponsors include the Washington State Labor Council, The Nature Conservancy, Washington Conservation Voters, Washington Environmental Council, Puget Sound Sage, Climate Solutions, Got Green and OneAmerica.

“I believe the average citizen is well aware of the climate crisis that we’re facing” and they want action, said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation.

She said 29 tribes with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians also back the proposal.

The coalition backing the measure includes some groups that opposed a 2016 carbon tax ballot measure. Washington voters defeated that measure by a 59 to 41 vote. Opponents criticize a carbon tax, saying it will raise gasoline and electricity prices for families, workers and employers and puts businesses in the state at a competitive disadvantage to those not subject to the tax.

The moves came a day after Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Reuven Carlyle, the prime sponsor of a carbon tax bill — SB 6203 — said they didn’t have enough votes to pass that measure out of the state Senate. That measure initially would have charged $20 per metric ton but was later amended to $12 per ton. Inslee and Carlyle are Democrats.

The bill cleared key policy and fiscal committees — advancing farther than previous measures — but didn’t have the votes needed to bring it to a floor vote.

“On the arc of history, we’re not quite far along enough on the arc,” Inslee said. “That day will come but it wasn’t quite here yet.”

Inslee said several bills are still pending in the Legislature that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including one that moves the state’s electrical grid away from fossil fuels and another that sets higher targets for reducing carbon pollution.

Kyle Murphy, executive director of Carbon Washington, which brought I-732 to the ballot, said support for climate change is really strong and “we’re pleased to see an initiative finally moving forward.”

Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, said “this initiative has a price mechanism but also takes the majority of the fees collected and invests it in driving carbon pollution down.”

He said the coalition has about 1,000 volunteers who are ready to collect signatures. They’ll also use paid signature gatherers.

“The cost of not doing anything is much higher than the cost of doing something about it,” Johnson said.

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