Opposition support is coming almost exclusively from the oil industry that has already raised millions of dollars to convince Washington voters to continue our path of inaction and dependence on their products.
Burned into our memories from the 1960s and ’70s are images of rivers on fire from industrial pollution and air quality so bad that children had to be kept inside for recess. People could see and smell the consequences of our actions and were justifiably afraid. Our government responded with overwhelming bipartisan support. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were passed, and the Nixon administration ushered in the Environmental Protection Agency to craft policies that would greatly enhance public health and the environment — like mileage and emissions standards in cars that improved the performance of our vehicles while saving us money, and sensible rules to address water and air pollution. These were thoughtful regulations that incentivized businesses and individuals to take actions that aligned economic interests with environmental protection — and they worked. It’s time for us to act again.
Today, our challenge is carbon. It is changing our weather, our ecosystems and our oceans. In 2018, it wasn’t burning rivers but smoke from forest fires that made Seattle’s air unhealthy to breathe, and experts tell us it is going to get worse. Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels in our power plants, vehicles and buildings affect our environment and our health every day. People are worried about the future — especially young people — and they are seeking leadership, solutions, and action. Efforts undertaken by the Obama administration, like those to clean up power plants, reduce methane emissions, improve the efficiency of appliances and many more, are being undermined or reversed today.
As citizens who have served as leaders in business and government, we are united in taking pride in our state, and our belief that an engaged electorate and government at every level plays a critical role in creating policies that unlock market forces and human innovation to solve difficult challenges. While it may seem unusual in these polarized times for two former cabinet members of different parties to join in recommending aggressive action, the warming of our planet demands it. Whether you identify as a Republican or Democrat, or have no political affiliation, we all breathe the same air, drink the same water and want future generations to have economic opportunity.
Right now, an unprecedented group of organizations has successfully collected more than 350,000 signatures to place I-1631, the Clean Air and Clean Energy initiative, on the November ballot. Tribal nations, businesses, labor unions, environmental groups, health professionals and faith leaders have formed one of the largest coalitions in Washington state history to take forceful action to address our shared challenges. And not a moment too soon, as federal leaders are taking us in the wrong direction — dismantling environmental protections and creating uncertainty for businesses.
Most Read Opinion Stories
- Extraordinary generosity will help homeless crisis | Editorial
- Dividends of a father's life well lived | Kate Riley / Opinion editor
- The ultimate expression of human creativity is the birth and nurturing of children | Op-Ed
- A social-media twilight zone | Horsey cartoon
- Giving voice to missing and murdered indigenous women | Editorial
What would I-1631 do? It would put a $15/ton fee on carbon emissions and invest the proceeds — around $1 billion a year — into Washington state. This action would reduce pollution; build clean-energy systems; incentivize homeowner energy efficiency, especially in underserved communities; and enhance the state’s natural resources, making them more resilient.
Opposition support is coming almost exclusively from the oil industry that has already raised millions of dollars to persuade Washington voters to continue our path of inaction and dependence on their products. They are the exception. We have both run businesses and believe that businesses don’t want to be known as polluters and don’t mind playing by rules that create a healthy environment. What businesses want is certainty — consistent rules, fairly applied, that create a level playing field with competitors and achieve desired outcomes. I-1631 supports the long-term health of businesses and employees in our state, and we should not let one industry dictate our future.
Today, communities, including rural, urban and tribal, will need to be at the center of the discussion about equitable approaches to support those already feeling the greatest effects of climate change. The global community committed to carbon reductions in the 2016 Paris Agreement to stave off accelerating stresses on economies, human health and our Earth’s life-support systems. Absent federal leadership in our country, it’s time for states to step forward. Our nation and the world are eagerly watching to see what Washington can do to show the way.
In the spirit of the proverb, “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,” it’s our responsibility to take the lessons we’ve learned from the past to lead by example and shape a brighter future. By passing I-1631, Washingtonians can help create a roadmap for progress that will make future generations proud.