Wednesday, January 17, 2018
NEW ENERGY: Environmental groups descended on the state Capitol this week, urging aggressive action on climate change. The climate in Olympia seems friendly to that action.
Governor Jay Inslee delivered his 2018 State of the State address earlier this month at the opening of the Legislature in a speech that laid out “new challenges to overcome and persistent wrongs to right.” High among these was the state’s long-promised (and long-delayed) response to climate change and carbon pricing.
“The Legislature recognized this threat a decade ago when it pledged to the people of Washington that we would make our air cleaner and reduce carbon pollution,” Inslee said, referring to legislation passed a decade ago that set specific targets for greenhouse gas emissions. “But unless we act now, that promise will be broken,” he warned.
A proposed bill introduced this session, SB 6253, would require that all new investments in energy resources be fossil-fuel-free, and prioritizing energy efficiency, demand response, storage, renewable energy and other solutions to reduce carbon pollution on the grid. The bill would also phase out coal by 2030 in preference to fossil-free energy sources. Ambitiously, the bill calls for 100 percent carbon reduction for electricity by 2045, creating a clean grid for electrifying our transportation sector.
Inslee took the effort a step further, proposing setting a price on carbon emissions and using those revenues to spur new clean energy infrastructure and reinvestment in communities harmed most by pollution.
Under the governor’s proposal, more than 75 percent of the carbon tax would be reinvested in a range of emission-reducing and job-creating programs. Revenues would help more people pay for energy-saving insulation in their homes, encourage additional use of electric vehicles and buses, build more solar panels and support the development of other clean energy technology.
Inslee’s proposal to tax carbon emissions across the state would be expected to generate about $3.3 billion over the next four years, according to financial analysts.
Carbon pricing is in place in about 60 countries around the world, covering half of the global economy, and is being implemented by a growing number of jurisdictions in the United States. Ten states currently have carbon pricing or cap-and-trade measures in place, including California. Six states — including Washington and Oregon — are currently considering similar proposals. Washington is the only remaining state on the West Coast without a clean fuel standard that would encourage and require oil refineries and distributors to reduce carbon pollution in their fuels.
Whatcom County Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen called the governor’s energy tax a “death tax” for Washington, predicting the proposal will devastate Washington’s economy and create hardship for people across the state.
“It is death for manufacturing, and for the middle-class families who will wind up paying the bulk of the tax,” Ericksen said.
Ericksen’s gloom cuts against one of his favorite aphorisms, however. As the senator is fond of saying, you tax things you want less of. Under the senator’s rubric, if you want to depress sales, tax sales. Ergo, if you want less carbon in the environment—tax it!
Research suggests an effective price on carbon would help stimulate a vibrant clean energy economy and spur investment in clean air and energy, healthy forests, and clean water. Technology development creates jobs and a more sustainable economy, and policies can provide protection for workers and businesses, ensuring that jobs and emissions are not shifted to other states.
Recent polling shows public support for a carbon pricing strategy.
A poll conducted late last year indicates 66 percent of likely voters support a policy that would require electrical utilities to phase out coal-generated electricity and phase in electricity generation from solar, wind, hydroelectric and other clean and renewable resources. Nearly half of respondents said they would be more likely to support their state legislator if they voted for measures like these in the 2018 legislative session. And 65 percent of likely voters back a potential ballot measure that would create a Clean Fuel Standard, requiring oil refineries and distributors to reduce the carbon pollution in Washington fuels by 10 percent by 2025, and protect existing funding for public transit and trails.
“What we have seen in a range of polling is that because voters’ desire for action on clean energy and climate is so broad, they are open to approaches that involve multiple legislative actions that could be taken to achieve these goals,” said Dave Metz with the polling research firm FM3. “They don’t believe there’s only one path to go down and they tend to see these policies as being complimentary to one another.”
There are caveats.
Washington State voters in 2016 rejected the nation’s first narrowly defeating a landmark attempt to address climate change that had divided environmental activists.
Despite being a major effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, some environmental justice advocates argued the 2016 initiative worked against working people and the poor, a stance that put them uncomfortably aligned with the fossil-fuel industry that also opposed the measure. Lawmakers in Olympia complained that while the proposal was ostensibly designed to be revenue-neutral, it instead would actually blow a sizable hole in the state budget. Yet despite being pummeled from every side, Initiative 732 still managed to garner about 42 percent of the vote.
“Our state is one of the best positioned to demonstrate that the transition to a fossil-free electricity is technically possible, economically viable, and a key driver for new jobs and economic growth now and for the future,” noted Gregg Small, executive director of Climate Solutions, a Northwest-based nonprofit that advocates a clean energy economy.
“We are preparing a ballot measure so that, if the Legislature fails to do its job, we are ready to take it to the people and that’s because it’s time for action,” said Becky Kelley, president of the Washington Environmental Council and co-chair of the Alliance.
Storm warnings aside, atmospheric conditions indicate lawmakers intend to do their job this session.