Spokane Journal of Business

Commentary

The Journal's View:I-1631’s carbon-emissions fee should be rejected at the polls

 

Siloed attempts to address global warming, separate from a coordinated national or international effort, raise costs for Washingtonians, put businesses statewide at a competitive disadvantage, and would make recruiting more companies that much more difficult. Consequently, voters should reject Initiative 1631, which would put in place carbon-tax emission fees.

To be clear, protecting the environment must become a greater priority on a national level, and steps taken in recent years by the federal government to impede progress toward reducing carbon emissions worldwide are discouraging. In all likelihood, history won’t be kind to the Trump Administration’s decisions not to participate in international efforts to address global warming. 

But uncoordinated efforts at the local and state levels to address climate change aren’t a solution to the actual problem. Measured attempts to reduce emissions, similar to those the state already has taken, are better than putting in place a fee structure that would raise the prices of energy and gasoline.

The same reasoning applies to the City of Spokane and the City Council’s recently passed ordinance setting the community-wide goal of 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2030. While the goal doesn’t carry any direct costs, accomplishing it in the current pricing environment would raise costs for households and businesses alike. Mayor David Condon was right to veto the ordinance, even though the veto likely will prove to be symbolic in nature, since it likely will be overridden by the Council’s veto-proof majority. That said, the council members who initially voted for the ordinance should reconsider their positions. 

As for I-1631, the costs aren’t projected or theoretical. The measure would establish an escalating fee structure on carbon emissions that would start at $15 a metric ton in 2020 and would increase by $2 a year, in addition to adjusting for inflation annually.

The measure calls for 70 percent of the funds generated to go toward clean-air and clean-energy investments, with the balance going to clean water, healthy forests, and healthy communities. A newly created, unelected board with, at best, nominal business representation would determine how those revenues would be spent. Terms such as “clean air” and “healthy communities” are vague. What’s clear is that the board would have a tremendous amount of latitude over how this large amount of money would be spent. Whether those “investments” actually assist in slowing climate change is far from a sure thing. 

What is a sure thing? Every single Washington resident and business would feel its effects. One estimate states that the initial tax would raise the price of gasoline by 14 cents a gallon, with costs going up annually from there. Washington state already has one of the highest gasoline taxes in the U.S., and while I-1631 might not be fashioned as a gas tax, it would serve as such. 

But that’s the point of I-1631. It seeks to punish consumers and businesses for consuming energy until it gets so uncomfortable that there’s no choice but to look at other—and for now, more expensive—options. 

Critics of I-1631 point to the strides the state already has made in reducing emissions. The state should continue on its current path of environmental improvement, rather than putting its citizens and businesses behind an economic eight ball.  Measured attempts to reduce emissions, similar to those the state already has taken, are better than putting in place a fee structure that would raise the prices of energy and gasoline.