Carbon tax: Rising from the ashes in Olympia?

It seemed dead, but Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed tax on carbon polluters could still come back to life this legislative session.

House Environment Committee chair Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Des Moines, said Thursday that he, administration officials, House representatives and even representation from the GOP Senate caucus have been meeting almost daily to discuss the possibility of reviving Inslee's dormant proposal. It would require Washington’s 80 to 90 biggest polluters to pay for the right to produce specific amounts of carbon emissions, which scientists have linked to global warming.

That proposal stalled last month when House Democrats left the tax and its revenue out of their 2015-2017 proposed budget.

However, legislators have looked at signature gathering by the group Carbon Washington to put Initiative 732 on the 2016 ballot. I-732 would install a $25-per-ton tax on carbon emissions beginning July 1, 2017.

The prospect of a blunt initiative rather than a more nuanced bill has prompted legislators to huddle about Inslee's carbon emissions tax proposal, said Fitzgibbon.

Several weeks ago, Fitzgibbon, who is the point person for Inslee’s plan in the House, introduced a bill to enact Inslee's concept. Fitzgibbon said the bill fell a few votes below the 50 House Democratic supporters in behind-the-scenes discussions needed to guarantee that it would pass. Fitzgibbon declined to say how far short it fell, but he said the number is small enough to make the prospects feasible. The concerns of the representatives reluctant to support the proposal are being discussed in the current meetings, he said.

If Inslee’s proposed system is enacted, polluters would be allowed to trade or sell their pollution quotas to other businesses. During the program’s first year, the affected business would divide up the same amount of carbon emissions as they produced in the previous year. Then the state would trim that total slightly each subsequent year.

Inslee hopes to reduce statewide carbon emissions to achieve greenhouse-gas limits that the Legislature set in a 2008 law. The state’s greenhouse emissions are supposed to reach 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions later.

Senate and House Republicans have opposed the proposal, arguing that it would significantly increase gasoline prices.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8