Black Hills Audubon Board Supports the Carbon Tax Initiative I-732
At its meeting in June, the Black Hills Audubon Board voted to support initiative I-732, which would establish a carbon tax in Washington state and will be on the ballot in next November’s general election. The intention is that the price of fossil fuels should reflect their true cost to the environment so that market decisions by both industry and consumers would lead them to develop and use alternatives. At the same time the Board recognizes that some in our chapter have reservations that lead them to oppose the initiative and some want more information.
In July Audubon Washington — following polling of its statewide membership and extensive discussions with chapters — also endorsed I-732. Resources and explanation for this decision are at http://wa.audubon.org/frontpage/landing/carbon.
Before making a decision, BHAS conducted a survey of its members and supporters (using Survey Monkey) concerning their views on the best way to address carbon emissions and I-732 in particular. Of 40 respondents to this survey, 95% favored a carbon tax, or cap and trade, or both. Concerning Initiative I-732, 77% supported it, 15% opposed, while the others said they needed more information to make a decision.
Half of the respondents submitted written comments. These included “need major reduction in CO2, the sooner the better. I-732 will help do our part;” “it’s a huge step forward and on the table now;” “732 makes WA state tax system more progressive and is good carbon policy;” “not perfect but need action now;” and “I-732 doesn’t go far enough and could be hard to change.”
I-732 would begin with a tax of $15 per metric ton of CO2 (approximately equivalent to 15 cents per gallon of gasoline); this tax would increase in subsequent years. I-732 would also reduce the state sales tax by one percentage point, provide rebates for low-income working households, and reduce the B&O tax for manufacturers.
I-732 would implement a procedure to reduce carbon emissions that has been implemented in British Columbia with considerable success in reducing emissions by 5 to 15%, as citizens reduce their fossil fuel use in the face of higher prices. I-732 includes provisions that will help low-income families by reducing our regressive sales tax and by providing a rebate to working families. I-732 may or may not be revenue neutral as intended — projections depend on assumptions.
Other proposals are in progress toward addressing climate change. Governor Inslee has charged the Department of Ecology with developing Clean Air rules that would address carbon emissions in order to meet the law passed in Washington State in 2008, requiring a reduction in emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2035; and by 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.
The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy has made a proposal that is likely to be considered by the state legislature in 2017. This proposal includes a carbon cap and fee on major emitters ($15 per metric ton and increasing over time) and empowers the Department of Ecology to update Washington’s carbon-reduction goals. Funds from the fees would be used to catalyze alternative energy and transportation projects, enhance water security, and manage healthy forests, provide a rebate to working families, and channel investments toward disadvantaged communities — all laudable goals. The fees paid by major emitters would, however, likely be passed on to consumers, but without a large compensatory tax reduction as in the case of I-732. The likelihood of passage in the state legislature of the Jobs and Clean Energy proposal is anyone’s guess.
Climate change and climate disruption will be expressed in warming climates, extremes of weather events, disrupted ecosystems in which wildlife cannot adjust in time to a rapidly changing climate, and human dislocations as sea levels rise. The latter may inundate areas that are highly populated, often inhabited by low-income people least able to adapt to the change. In our effort to address this prospect, we need to reduce substantially our use of carbon-emitting fuels, by both personal decisions and government actions, developing alternatives to our use of non-renewable, carbon-emitting energy.
Although the challenge is global, we face choices for action at the Washington state level. Insofar as possible we seek to implement action to reduce carbon emissions while taking into account the effects of such changes on humans and the rest of the natural environment, particularly so that any negative consequences are as equitable as possible. I-732 is an attempt to balance these objectives and is available for decision this year. Other proposals strive to balance these objectives in different ways and can be supported as they become available.
Climate change is with us; we need action now. In 2016 we have before us one voter initiative addressing climate change, to be voted on in the November election. Positive state-level action may lead to eventual national action. We recommend support for I-732.