Washington would have been the first U.S. state to impose a straight tax on carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels such as gasoline and electricity, and the legislation has been closely watched nationally.
Another ambitious effort to pass a carbon tax in Washington state has faltered as both Gov. Jay Inslee and the bill’s prime sponsor said Thursday that there weren’t enough votes to pass the measure out of the state Senate.
Washington would have been the first U.S. state to impose a straight tax on carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels like gasoline and electricity, and the legislation has been closely watched nationally.
But Inslee told The Associated Press on Thursday they were still “one or two votes shy” of passing it out of the Democrat-controlled Senate. The bill also needed to clear the House before the short 60-day legislative session ends March 8.
“I would consider this a sea change in the climate fight. It’s come a long way from where we’ve been. We’ve basically shown that carbon policy is within reach,” said the Democratic governor. He noted the bill cleared key policy and fiscal committees — advancing further than previous measures — but didn’t have the votes to bring it to a floor vote.
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“On the arc of history, we’re not quite far along enough on the arc,” Inslee said. “That day will come, but it wasn’t quite here yet.”
The bill’s sponsor Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, said in coming years, “we’re going to see a price on carbon in this state.”
But the push to put a price on carbon has not ended for the year.
A coalition of environmental, tribal and other groups are drafting an initiative that would put a fee on carbon, and will try to gain enough signatures to put it on the November ballot.
“We plan to file very soon ” said Caleb Heeringa, a deputy press secretary with the Sierra Club, which is part of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy that is drafting the initiative.
Washington has been on the forefront of U.S. efforts to put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions produced by fossil-fuel combustion. Inslee repeatedly has proposed legislation and carbon-tax proponents fashioned an initiative that failed to gain passage during 2016 election.
Barry Rabe, a professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, said if the bill is defeated it underscores “that political support for a carbon tax does remain one of the heaviest lifts in American politics.”
“Even in a state like Washington where you have a governor who is enthusiastically in favor, a Legislature that seems to lean to the idea, this proves difficult to do at least at this point,” he said.
One point of contention has been how to structure a carbon tax. Proponents of the 2016 initiative sought a revenue-neutral measure that would cut other taxes in equal proportions to escalating tax imposed on fossil fuels. That helped to draw some support from Republicans, including three state senators.
But the legislation considered this session in Olympia would not cut other taxes, and the new initiative also will not take a revenue-neutral approach, said the Sierra Club’s Heeringa.
Senate Bill 6203 would have imposed a new tax of $12 per metric ton of carbon emissions on the sale or use of fossil fuels such as gasoline and natural gas. That’s lower than the $20 per ton originally proposed by Inslee.
The tax would have begun in 2019 and in 2021 would have increased $1.80 per ton each year until it hits $30 a ton — estimated to be in 2030. In the first two years, the tax was projected to raise $766 million and increase to about $988 million in the next biennium.
Business and other critics called it an energy tax that would be paid mostly by families and those who could least afford it. They criticized the numerous exemptions in the bill that allowed more than 60 industries to be exempt.
In 2020, the carbon tax would mean a 10-cent hike in gasoline prices, or nearly 4 percent higher than it otherwise would be, according to legislative analysts.
Todd Myers with the Washington Policy Center said the bill would not achieve the promised carbon reductions. He said too much money goes to carve-outs, special interests and expensive projects that won’t actually reduce greenhouse-gas emissions as promised.