Washington voters soundly rejected Initiative 732 in 2016, which would have made the state the first in the U.S. to create a carbon tax on emissions from fossil fuels. In a strange bit of political infighting, the state’s major environmental, labor and Democratic Party groups largely opposed the initiative.
This year, the Legislature may go ahead and take the plunge. A carbon-tax bill sought by Gov. Jay Inslee is moving in Olympia, though its prospects are far from certain.
On Episode 70 of The Overcast, The Seattle Times weekly politics podcast, Kristin Eberhard explains how we got here, and what’s next. Eberhard is a senior researcher — and self-described “proud policy wonk” — with the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit think tank favoring a carbon tax.
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Eberhard joins hosts Dan Beekman and Jim Brunner to break down how this latest proposal differs from the one voters trashed at the polls two years ago. That initiative sought to be “revenue neutral” — meaning it would have given tax cuts to make up for the carbon tax increase, which would make gasoline and electricity more expensive.
Labor and environmental groups opposed that strategy, preferring to spend carbon tax money on other priorities. That led to strange bedfellows as the liberal organizations joined the conservative Koch Brothers in killing I-732. This year’s measure would instead devote carbon-tax revenues to other government-spending programs, including efforts to hasten the transition to clean energy.
On the podcast, Eberhard gives the arguments for a state carbon tax, and rejects the theory advanced by critics that Washington — which is a comparatively clean-energy state — shouldn’t act alone in the absence of a national strategy. With the Trump administration abandoning the Paris climate accords, she says there is a “United States-shaped hole” in global climate policy — one that states can help plug.
Washington has been a missing link in carbon-reduction efforts launched by California, Oregon and British Columbia. If the Legislature doesn’t act this year, Eberhard notes a citizen initiative is waiting in the wings (one that does have the backing of the Democratic Party aligned groups that opposed I-732).
Listen straight to the end as Eberhard closes with a sober assessment of whether it’s too late to avert catastrophic levels of global warming in the coming decades, notwithstanding efforts like Washington’s carbon tax.
This episode was recorded at the Seattle studios of public radio 88.5 FM KNKX, as part of an ongoing partnership.
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