As you sit down to vote, who will you listen to? Will it be Big Oil and climate naysayers? Or those who are ready to get started building a new green economy that will protect this special state and its people?
The drumbeat reverberates ever louder on climate change. The most alarming report to date warns us that Earth is on a collision course with famine, destructive flooding, extreme heat, drought and wildfire.
The U.N. report even gave us a new deadline: We have a dozen years to curb heat-trapping carbon emissions or face a wave of punishing impacts.
Yet, there are those who remain indifferent to what U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called the great challenge of our time. They don’t believe our state can mount a credible campaign to protect Washington’s communities and natural resources. Others simply ignore what science is telling us: Global warming? Nope, we live in the Northwest. Not our problem!
But global warming knows no boundaries. The fact is our Northwest way of life, our salmon, forests, rivers, farms and communities — the places and resources we cherish and want for our children and grandchildren — are at risk.
While it’s tempting to push in your earbuds and drown out the bad news, each of us can do our part and help prepare for an uncertain future by voting yes on Initiative 1631, the clean air and clean energy ballot measure.
Why? Because as a society we need to make “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes” if we are to blunt the worst impacts, according to the U.N. report.
As former Vice President Al Gore recently reminded us, “We have a global emergency.”
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“You use a phrase like that,” Gore told PBS’ NewsHour, “and some people immediately say, ‘OK, calm down, it can’t be that bad.’ But it is.”
I-1631 is a relatively painless first step toward a climate-resilient future. Starting in 2020, it would impose a modest starting fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon pollution on some of our biggest polluters — namely oil refineries. Of the five Washington refineries, BP Cherry Point Refinery, for example, emitted the most carbon dioxide in 2016 — 2.4 million metric tons.
Taxing carbon is nothing new. British Columbia and California have done it for years, as well as European nations such as Britain, which last month celebrated the world’s largest offshore wind farm coming online, capable of powering 590,000 homes.
I-1631 will allow the state to accelerate investments in proven clean-energy initiatives and emerging technologies. Think more energy conservation, more electric fleet vehicles and enhanced electrical grids, transit, solar and wind power — investments we know we will need to make and, more importantly, that will make a difference.
It’s important to know that before any new project is funded — whether it’s protecting our forests or river flood plains or our most vulnerable communities — each investment must undergo rigorous, credible, scientific review.
You may have heard about an “unaccountable” 15-member carbon board. Here are the facts. A panel appointed by the governor will oversee planning and recommend prudent investments. Its members and subcommittees will come from state agencies, business, labor, climate specialists, academics and tribes. Its work will be scrutinized, fact-checked, scrubbed and monitored for performance by the state Legislature, which ultimately holds the purse strings.
As state Sen. Guy Palumbo, a I-1631 supporter, explained to me, “We have a vested interest in making sure this works.”
If you watch TV, you’ll hear a dark advertising message from the “No” campaign. But remember, oil companies fear I-1631 might spread to other states if voters here approve it.
Big Oil is spending a record sum — now nearly $26 million — to convince you that I-1631 is some wild-eyed scheme that will crush small business, seniors and farmers. Spending will go unchecked! Emission targets will not be met! Higher gas taxes forever!
But isn’t paying pennies more per gallon at the pump a small price if it means investing in the future health of our state? And let’s be honest, the state has raised the gas tax repeatedly over the years for road projects. Those tax hikes did not crater our economy and neither will I-1631.
For those who would be pinched by higher energy costs, tax revenues will be pumped back into low-income communities through utility rebates, energy efficiency upgrades to housing, electric-powered transit upgrades and more.
In his strong endorsement of I-1631, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates perhaps said it best: “Going first is never easy, but Washington has a history of pioneering new ideas. And because of all the benefits … enhancing the state’s role as a leader in innovation, and most of all accelerating progress on climate-change solutions — I believe it will be worth it.”
Washington’s clean-energy market is emerging, and I-1631 will provide incentives needed to bring new innovations “out of the lab and into the market,” according to Gates. Such investments are estimated to create 40,000 new jobs across Washington.
As you sit down to vote, who will you listen to? Big Oil? Or a coalition of businesses, health professionals, scientists, energy advocates, tribes, faith groups, communities of color, environmentalists and working families? These groups are united in the belief that we can build a new green economy that begins the shift away from fossil fuels and protects this special state and its people. The choice is clear.