Washington voters could find two carbon-pricing initiatives on the 2016 ballot. One is a “revenue neutral” carbon tax, the other would raise money for government programs through a carbon fee.
Washington voters could see two competing initiatives to fight climate change vying for their support on the 2016 fall ballot.
A coalition of environmental, labor, social-justice and other groups announced plans Tuesday for an initiative that would impose fees on carbon emissions from fossil fuels. and spend proceeds on clean-energy investments and other government programs.
The initiative’s details were not released during a news conference at a downtown Seattle steam plant. Leaders of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy used the event to emphasize their diverse coalition and said their proposal will be finalized in the coming months.
Meanwhile, backers of a competing measure have been gathering signatures for months on a different carbon-pricing approach.
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Initiative 732 would tax carbon emissions, but would take a “revenue neutral” approach — offsetting the new tax with cuts in business and sales taxes.
Tensions have boiled up between the two efforts, as alliance leaders have sought to discredit the I-732 organization, Carbon Washington, by distributing negative polling and accusing backers of failing to put communities of color at the center of their plans.
Alliance leaders said their plan would target the state’s largest carbon emitters. It would prioritize spending carbon-fee proceeds on programs that aid low-income and minority communities who are disproportionately hurt by climate change.
That could including help for migrant farmworkers displaced by wildfires stoked by global warming, for example. At the news conference, Orlando Gonzalez, a health-outreach coordinator from Okanogan County, told of Spanish-speaking workers affected by this summer’s record-setting blazes.
Lisa MacLean, director of the alliance, said the time the group has spent building a broad base will pay off. “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” she said, quoting an African proverb.
A business-backed group called the Washington Climate Collaborative issued a statement criticizing the alliance’s plan, arguing it would drive up gas and heating costs. “The initiative will wind up hurting the very people its backers claim to want to help: the poor, elderly, and those on fixed incomes,” said Tacoma restaurant owner Monique Trudnowski in the statement.
Carbon Washington leaders have defended I-732’s “revenue neutral” approach as one that could draw support even from some conservatives by separating the argument over increased government spending from the debate over climate change.
In a statement Tuesday, Joe Ryan, a Carbon Washington board member, said the group’s leaders are “committed to sincere dialogue with the Alliance and are eager to heal the rift in the community concerned about global climate disruption.”
But, Ryan added, “We remain steadfast regarding Initiative 732. Our grass-roots campaign is moving ahead to qualify our initiative for the ballot.”
I-732 backers say they’ve gathered more than 256,000 signatures toward their goal of 330,000. As an initiative to the Legislature, I-732 needs 246,732 valid signatures by the end of the year. That would force lawmakers to either pass the measure or send it to a public vote.
Unlike I-732, the alliance’s proposal is planned as an initiative to the people. It would bypass the Legislature and go straight to the 2016 ballot if it gets enough signatures next year.
Despite their disagreements, both groups share a frustration over inaction on climate issues by the Legislature, which this year declined to pass cap-and-trade legislation proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
MacLean said she hopes the alliance and I-732 ultimately will join forces. “I think it’s time for us to come together and combine our strengths,” she said.