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    Orcas Island senator eyes a carbon tax to protect NW shellfish

    After a jarring report from Gov. Gregoire's panel on ocean acidification, state Sen. Kevin Ranker takes aim at the Northwest's biggest culprit: Carbon dioxide emissions.
    State Senator Kevin Ranker (D)

    State Senator Kevin Ranker (D) Citizens for Kevin Ranker

    State Sen. Kevin Ranker is considering an industrial carbon tax to curb carbon dioxide emissions in Washington and to deal with the increasing acidity of the state's waters.

    Ranker, D-Orcas Island and and chairman of the Senate's Natural Resources Committee, is vetting the carbon tax and other potential measures among colleagues as he prepares a bill expected to be filed in January. The bill will be designed to decrease the acidity of sea water, which is weakening the shells of infant shellfish and killing them by the billions, according to a panel of scientists, policy makers and business interests appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire. 

    That panel, of which Ranker is a member, announced its fix-it recommendations Tuesday.

    Details are still up in the air, but Ranker said he is exploring a concept used in British Columbia in which a tax on industrial carbon emissions would be levied in return for those businesses receiving comparable relief from other state government taxes or fees. "How far that goes depends on my colleagues — Republicans and Democrats," Ranker said.

    In its Tuesday report, the panel reported that about 30 percent of Puget Sound's marine life is endangered by the increasing acidity. Currently Washington's shellfish industry brings in about $270 million annually and employs about 3,200 people in predominantly rural areas, where jobs are often hard to come by and losses could greatly hurt local economies. Growing carbon dioxide emissions are considered the leading cause of ocean acidification. 

    "The need to act now is becoming more and more apparent," Ranker said. 

    The Orcas Island senator is also looking at legislating nutrient loads seeping into Washington state bays and ocean from agriculture and septic tanks — a culprit targeted in the Tuesday report.

    Ranker says he wants to create an ocean protection council to ensure that the many separate measures put into effect are coordinated, including distributing efforts to adequately address problems in both Puget Sound and along the Pacific coast. Ranker described the potential council strictly as a coordinating body and not as a new agency. 

    Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, is a member of both the Senate Natural Resources Committee and Gregoire's panel. He suggested Thursday that the committee explore the panel's recommendations to plant eelgrass in extra-acidic waters as a fix-it measure. 

    Meanwhile, the first signs of qualms about this effort have surfaced. State Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, a member of the panel, wrote a letter outlining her concerns about the initiative, which she publicly released Wednesday. Smith described it as "support with concerns." 

    Smith's concerns are:

    • Limited involvement by agricultural representatives. "They play a key role in nutrient management in our state and have expertise in achieving water quality standards through voluntary practices, ... The panel did not have the benefit of their meaningful participation, and was left without a thorough understanding of current practices and reforms and a thoughtful review of the potential consequences to farmers and landowners that could impair agricultural viability in Washington state," Smith wrote. 
    • Not enough scientific data. Smith would like to see more data collected to fill information gaps before legislating more regulations.  
    • Not enough economic context. "The lack of context with regard to the enormous economic challenges we face in a fragile economy and the costs to our communities, employers and landowners of implementation. Significant strain resulting from hurried un-informed actions could have serious long-term consequences, particularly in our advanced manufacturing, agriculture and production sectors,"Smith wrote.   

    John Stang covers state government for Crosscut. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.

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    Posted Fri, Nov 30, 3:07 a.m. Inappropriate

    It seems to me that with the China Coal Ports being a possibility, that talking about cutting carbon emissions in Washington is pointless. Also, if the carbon taxed corporations would get equivalent relief from other taxes, and fees; then what is the real point? The carbon taxed corporations would still be paying the same. What is the point?

    A Council on Ocean Protection is a good idea, but not if it is just a "coordinator" with no teeth. We do not need to go to the expense of creating a new State Council that is nothing but a coordinator.

    I do not wish to be mean; but these proposals would do nothing to solve the problem of ocean acidification. They appear designed to sound, and look good, but accomplish nothing. These proposals seem like nothing but veneer.


    Posted Fri, Nov 30, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    jhandle, you ask: "Also, if the carbon taxed corporations would get equivalent relief from other taxes, and fees; then what is the real point? The carbon taxed corporations would still be paying the same. What is the point?"

    The point is that if carbon is taxed, the impacted businesses then have an incentive to reduce carbon emissions because their taxes would decrease (as opposed to, say, the B & O tax, where the only option businesses have for reducing their tax burden is doing less business or relocating). Ultimately, people and businesses tend to respond much more favorably to incentives than coercion.

    BTW, revenue-neutral carbon pricing is something even the right-of-center Washington Policy Center has proposed: http://seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2008777644_opinb24myers.html


    Posted Fri, Nov 30, 3:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    Right, so why should other taxes be reduced in order to give industry the opportunity to further reduce their taxes. We do not need to be reducing revenue to other programs in order to reduce the carbon emissions of industry.

    Also, incentive does not work better than coercion. The Clean Water Act coerces practices that lead to/maintain clean water. An incentive based attempt for the results of the Clean Water Act would have never led to the cleaner water that we have now. There is a long list of areas where coercion is the only thing that works. (An aside: Fracking is exempt from the Clean Water Act; and, get this, Fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Along with exemption from other environmental law.)

    Incentive based environmental measures do not work. It seems to be as effective as "trickle down" economics. In theory with all parties acting in good faith it should work; but all parties do not act in good faith. There would be no need for most environmental law if all parties always acted in good faith. They don't.

    As for the Washington Policy Center, and right of center: Of course the right of center wants more governmental control over energy, they need to make sure there is plenty for the energy hogs, like the wealthy and right of center favored corporations. And then, the carbon tax would give the government more control over citizens. That is something that the right of center is always for. Not to mention the carbon tax "cap and trade" would start a new commodities market for the wealthy to churn money out of. In the end cap and trade/carbon tax effectively hands ownership of out atmospere to private corporations. The pollution is no longer regulated, it is owned, and may be sold. That means ownership of the atmosphere.

    I wish that the ideas would work, but I do not believe that they would.


    Posted Sun, Dec 2, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    I agree with jhandle's take on the "incentive" approach. "You need to pay up so that what you want me to do is worth my while" is now so epidemic as to make the front page of today's Seattle Times: "Corporations get tax deals, cities, states pay the price—are incentives worth it?"

    For anyone genuinely serious about a human future, Ruth Grant does the definitive job of taking down this nonsense: "Strings Attached, Untangling the Ethics of Incentives," 2012.

    We would not need laws if everyone responded out of good faith and high morals, but on the other hand, the relative newness of the incentive epidemic makes clear that to get as far as we have, entities of all kinds have done (and still do) things with the common good as the only reward.


    Posted Fri, Nov 30, 11:44 a.m. Inappropriate

    I suppose we do not know precisely the sources of the carbon that is poisoning our ocean. It would make the Senator's proposal more convincing if he were able to identify, at least in some sort of rough percentages, where the carbon is coming from. If, for example, the main source of ocean carbon is automobile exhaust and leakage then hammering "industry" and "agriculture" would be, at best, an indirect response. Rep. Smith seems to have a more prudent approach and I hope she prevails.


    Posted Sun, Dec 2, 3:34 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Governor claimed on the TVW broadcast of the press conference in question that in the ocean, at least, the carbon responsible for the damage is traceable to human production. As I understood the presentation the recommended approach is two part based on differing certainties: legislation to reduce regional contribution and spur global reduction of ocean carbon loading (based on traceable certainty) and intensive, time limited research to bring similar certainty to the contributions from water cycle pollutions, with suitable legislation to follow.

    What was sadly quaint about the Governor's responses to press questions was her insistence that taking a stance on the Coal Transport controversy is premature given the state mandated environmental review process, including public guidance and input. She is correct, of course. The quaintness enters when one compares this correct response to the increasing, rather ironic instances of environmental review skipped over entirely due to trendy agendas expressed as intentionally vague as possible in state mandated comprehensive plans. One has to wonder if the same know-it-all-smugness, if not outright subterfuge producing the endless stream of "Declarations of Non Significance" (DNSs) will extend to the research, presentation, and consideration of the few Environmental Impact Statements in progress (EISs), e.g. Coal Ports, Seattle's 3rd Sports Arena.

    Alas, the state legislature's much pressured efforts at rationalizing and streamlining an overly "Mother-May- I" approach to sharing the planet become less and less rational. As Naomi Klein just penned, it likely comes down to a People's Shock. Google in quotes: "Superstorm Sandy—a People's Shock?"


    Posted Fri, Nov 30, 2:10 p.m. Inappropriate

    This proposal sadly is about the equivalent of peeing on a forest fire. Of course it's easy to denigrate such symbolic efforts. But still, we have got to start somewhere to reduce the incentives for burning anything and everything. Would a measure like this actually be a start or would it just serve to give the impression that "something is being done" when in reality it isn't? I don't know...

    How many of us are concerned about ruining the planet yet still fly happily around in horribly polluting airplanes? Things have got to start somewhere, although to see this initiative go ahead while a giant coal port gets built would be very disheartening. Burning that coal would dwarf any small benefits this might provide.

    Posted Fri, Nov 30, 3:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    Goldman-Sachs wishes to build up to four giant China Coal Ports in Washington. You are correct about the huge amount of pollution caused by jets. Then take a look at rocket launches, incredible amounts of pollution. A space shuttle launch caused as much pollution as a year of Los Angeles road traffic, a single launch. This was not as concerning when launches were primarily done by government, there were not as many launches; but now with the private space launch corporations the number of launches has increased, and seemingly this increase will continue.

    You are right in that we have to do something.


    Posted Sun, Dec 2, 4:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    The webs we weave:
    "In 1978, Washington unleashed vast changes in America’s airline industry, deregulating fares, routes, and the entry of new competitors, which federal oversight had long restricted. A host of low-cost carriers arrived on the scene, and some of the established airlines, now free to enter new markets, moved toward a hub model, in which passengers fly to a central airport and transfer to connecting flights. Deregulation also sent fares plummeting. Today, the average plane ticket is 30 percent to 40 percent cheaper than it was in the regulated era, adjusted for inflation. Business soared, with passenger volume increasing from about 270 million passengers annually in the late 1970s to about 730 million last year. Employment in the industry exploded—up 35 percent, to about 450,000 people.

    Most of the growth caused by deregulation occurred before 2001, however. Over the troubled 2000s, airline employment declined, and passenger traffic rose only slightly—growing just 0.2 percent per year from 2000 through 2010, compared with about 4.6 percent annually in the 1980s and 1990s. The harsh business climate forced many big airlines to shrink, merge, or go bankrupt, and they began abandoning unprofitable routes and airports that didn’t generate sufficient revenue. Because airports rely heavily on the fees that airlines pay them, which vary according to use, the shift hit them hard, especially those that already owed a lot of money to pay off their construction or expansion. And airports that had expanded to accommodate hub traffic saw unprecedented declines in business..." Steven Malanga, City Journal, Autumn, 2012.


    Posted Sat, Dec 1, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    Senator Ranker deserves great credit for putting this on the table. British Columbia's carbon tax has been a terrific success and I'm part of a group that's been working over the past few years to bring something similar to Washington. Talks are starting to heat up with legislators and stakeholders around the state, so please check out our website and consider joining our effort! http://carbonwa.org/

    Yoram Bauman PhD

    Posted Sat, Dec 1, 7:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    Yoram, a carbon tax on business/industry would be better if it the cost was not offset for the business by reducing it's other taxes.
    Presumably, the carbon tax revenue would be used to green up business/industry, and for environmental projects.
    That is great; but the offsetting of the cost would reduce revenue to the programs the revenue is going to now.
    This tax would cause spending cuts in other programs, and would net no revenue gain to the state. This does not make sense. If a carbon tax is desired, then there should be no offsetting of cost to the business.

    Also, permits to pollute must never be allowed to be sold.


    Posted Sun, Dec 2, 5:51 a.m. Inappropriate

    Ultimately, increased regulation, and taxation such as this
    carbon tax will send manufacturing jobs overseas. If one wants
    to increase unemployment in this state, then go ahead and pass
    such a tax.

    The newly unemployed of the state will surely thank you during
    your next election effort.


    Posted Mon, Dec 3, 1:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    A carbon tax. Like a tax will fix the ocean and save the planet. All this plan would accomplish is grow state government beyond it's already large ineffectual size with the same problem solving abilities as it has now. Can't think of a single large problem this state has addressed and solved. Education springs to mind and it's a peewee compared the larger issue that occupies Sen. Ranker's mind.

    If you're a state worker, there's an up side to a carbon tax, it'll put more people to work for the government. Which of course means more cars on the road traveling to work and more pollution which means we have to up the tax and hire more people to fix an ever growing problem.

    Remember it's not in the best interest of state government to completely solve problems.


    Posted Mon, Dec 3, 5:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    I have to give the guy an "A" for effort. Of course, we know it has nothing to do with carbon and everything to do with the endless quest by Democrats to raise taxes. Just make sure to get a two-thirds majority, Mr. Ranker. You are the reason Eyman's tax initiative passed every single county in the state. You see, we keep guys like you around for the entertainment -- kind of like, say, PETA -- but we don't give you any real power. Fun job, huh?


    Posted Sun, Dec 9, 2:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    What we need to do is start the transition away from fossil fuels. Washington State's fair share of emissions reductions to avoid 2 degrees of warming would mean discontinuing the use of fossil fuels within the next few decades. Anyone who claims we can continue to use natural gas or other fossil fuels does not understand the numbers or the physics. Our economy and culture are built on fossil fuel energy, so this is not an easy thing to do. However, if we don't do it, we leave our children a nightmare world that will not be compatible with stable governments and adequate food and water for 7-9 billion people. I am concerned that the current and next governor are unwilling to clearly state that we cannot allow coal to be shipped through Washington. This is such a no brainer, because that coal will acidify our oceans and change our climate here. Much of the discussion in the comments to this article also do not seem to recognize that insufficient action means the end of civilization as we know it, and destruction of the life-supporting capacity of the earth for future generations. Once we all accept that we must transition away from fossil fuels completely and quickly, the question becomes "how?". A carbon tax may be the most reliable and painless way to ease ourselves off of fossil fuels, while protecting ordinary people from negative economic impacts.


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