What could possibly be controversial about a major environmental group endorsing a climate-change measure? This being Seattle, read on.
You’d think a major environmental group endorsing a measure to combat climate change would be no big deal.
But over at Audubon headquarters in Seward Park, they are girding themselves for the blowback.
It means Audubon is breaking away from a huge group of environmental, labor and progressive groups in the Puget Sound region — a group that Audubon awkwardly still belongs to. That coalition has opposed Initiative 732 as a “Republican lite” effort that raises no money for various causes and may even blow a hole in the state budget.
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“We are breaking ranks,” says Audubon Washington’s executive director Gail Gatton. “I think there might be relationships that need some repair. But hopefully it won’t be any more serious than just a disagreement.”
The politics around Initiative 732, on the November ballot, has been a liberal pig pile. Long story summarized: The measure was modeled by some climate-change activists after British Columbia’s carbon tax. The simple idea is that if we tax what’s bad for the environment, eventually we’ll get less of it (think tobacco taxes).
But the plan was undercut a year ago by a progressive group called the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, which disliked how I-732 didn’t raise money for job-training programs, communities of color or green-energy efforts. Instead it rebates all the money in tax cuts.
An economist wrote in The New York Times that at first he didn’t believe the headlines out of Seattle that a progressive group was torpedoing a climate-change bill.
“It is like reading ‘Democrats Rally to Cut the Minimum Wage,’ ” he wrote.
The founder of I-732, UW economics Ph.D. Yoram Bauman, then dumped a train load of fossil fuel on what had been only a simmering fire:
“I am increasingly convinced that the path to climate action is through the Republican Party,” he said. He cited two aspects of the political left: “An unyielding desire to tie everything to bigger government, and a willingness to use race and class as political weapons in order to pursue that desire.”
But this spring, Audubon began taking a second look at the idea. It realized it kind of agreed with part of Bauman’s critique — that the issue had been co-opted to become more about raising money than climate change.
What’s unique about I-732 is that it would rebate all the carbon-tax money raised. It cuts sales and business taxes and also expands a tax credit for low-income families.
“The tax cuts are the Republican idea in this, and that became the huge sticking point,” Gatton said. “In the Alliance, it became more about getting money for every program and interest represented in the Alliance. The social-justice aspect really seemed to us to become more of a money aspect. It was ‘we need the money.’ ”
Audubon’s board eventually decided to support I-732 even with its flaws. It’s a historic chance to start a shift away from a carbon-based economy, the group said.
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It’s also the only game going. The competing progressive group didn’t put its plan on the ballot.
“We realize it’s imperfect,” Gatton said. “But to do nothing for four years, maybe more, how does that help? At Audubon, we’re the bird people. The number one threat to birds is climate change. This is the only thing before us that begins to help birds. So we’re for it.”
The endorsement means Audubon Washington will devote at least $60,000 in staff resources for the initiative, which remains a long shot. Gatton said the national Audubon is also backing I-732 — which up until now has had few friends in an intense, lefty intramural struggle.
I don’t know yet if think I-732 is the right policy, or whether I’ll vote for it. But it just got interesting.