PORT ANGELES — Proponents and an opponent of an initiative that would set a carbon emissions fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon released by polluters sparred during a Port Angeles Business Association forum Tuesday morning.
Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center argued against Initiative 1631 while Stephanie Celt, Washington State policy coordinator for the BlueGreen Alliance and Olympic Climate Action members Diane Lombardo and Ed Bowlby argued for the initiative.
Celt said that in her work with the BlueGreen Alliance, a nonprofit that aims to solve environmental issues in ways that create and maintain quality jobs, she was part of the group that wrote I-1631.
Voters will consider the initiative during the Nov. 6 general election. Ballots are to be mailed out today.
“In essence Initiative 1631 is a fee on our largest carbon polluters so that they pay a fair share for pollution and this way we can generate money to invest in clean energy and reducing pollution in our state,” Celt said.
She said the fee is applied primarily in the middle of the fossil fuel distribution system on petroleum distributors, natural gas distributors and public utilities selling energy generated with fossil fuels.
It starts at $15 per metric ton of carbon and would increase by $2 annually until the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals are met.
Of the money generated, 70 percent would go toward reducing carbon pollution, 25 percent toward natural resources and 5 percent to support communities.
Myers argued that the fee would be passed on to the consumer and that it would not be effective enough to justify the hikes in energy prices that people could see.
Myers said Initiative 1631 is high cost for low benefits.
“She mentioned it is oil companies and natural gas companies who pay, but that is not correct,” Myers said. “It’s you who pays.”
He cited a study he said shows 100 percent of the costs would be passed on to the consumer. He said it would increase the cost of gas by about 14 cents a gallon in its first year, an amount that would increase another 2 cents per year.
“Ultimately it’s about $250 per household per year,” he said. “A couple of weeks of groceries per year is what you’re going to pay in the very first year.”
He said the initiative creates a 15-person board with 14 people appointed by the governor. The one elected person on the board would be Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.
Myers said the board would be able to spend money on pilot projects and experiments and that the board has total discretion as to how to spend the money.
“As a result, there’s no accountability,” he said. “If they fail, they don’t lose membership on the board; there is no change in the tax.”
They were asked how the fee would affect people in rural communities versus urban communities.
Celt said the policy is structured in a way that focuses on equity so that it would benefit people with lower incomes in rural communities.
“There are programs built in to mitigate costs for those communities and to drive investment money to communities that need it the most,” Celt said.
“This policy was not written to make your gas taxes more expensive,” she said. “Actually the policy was written to create basically a green New Deal: a way to invest money into solutions that already exist in Washington state and to help people to access them.”
She said funds could be used to benefit telemedicine so that people in rural counties do not need to spend so much time driving.
Myers said the intuitive would hurt people in rural communities who tend to drive more.
“Fundamentally, the problem is how the wealthy and the poor are treated,” he said, referring to electric cars.
He said revenues could be used for electric car charging stations, but about 70 percent of electric vehicles are purchased in the highest earning zip codes.
“Energy taxes are regressive and where they want to spend the money tends to favor people who can afford solar — which is expensive — and electric vehicles — which are expensive,” he said.
“There are lots of things we can do to reduce CO2 emissions, but the history in Washington state and the city of Seattle, is that we spend money on things that feel good and look good, but not the things that are effective.”
The state Legislature outlined in 2008 cuts in the state’s overall emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020, to 25 percent of 1990 levels by 2035, and by 2050, the state would do its part to reach global climate stabilization levels by reducing overall emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels, or 70 percent below the state’s expected emissions that year.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].