A new plan for a carbon tax

Crosscut archive image.

A refinery on Fidalgo Island near Anacortes (2008).

The Washington House Democrats will announce a revamped carbon emissions tax plan on Monday, according to House Speaker Frank Chopp.

At a Democratic leaders press briefing Thursday, Chopp, D-Seattle, declined to say what the details will be. “We’re still working on it," he said.

Also, the House Democratic leaders have not yet run the entire proposal by all 51 members of the caucus. Any plan would need the support of 50 out of the 98 House members to pass. And passage by the House appears to be a requirement for winning any serious consideration of a carbon tax in the super-slow negotiations with the Senate over the state's main 2015-2017 budget.

Chopp expects the House to hold a hearing on the proposal next Thursday.

"I still suspect they don't have the votes," said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale and chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. Ericksen has been a leading opponent of the carbon emissions tax concept.

"It's really a tax bill. It's not an environmental bill," said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. Schoesler opposes any plan to raise taxes to pay for the 2015-2017 budget.

Chopp said of the carbon tax revision: "This is something for people to consider. It is meant as a good faith offer” in the budget talks.

The House Democrats’ move will revive and revise a dormant bill by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Des Moines, introduced at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee. The Fitzgibbon bill 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. Global warming has been tied to increasing ocean acidity, which is believed to be harming Washington's shellfish industry, and expected reductions in mountain snowpacks, which are critical to irrigation in Eastern Washington.

Under Inslee’s and Fitzgibbon's original plan, 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.

The plan was estimated to raise roughly $1.3 billion in annual revenue to be split among education, transportation, family tax credits, affordable housing programs, clean energy programs and helping Washington industries deal with competitors not facing the carbon emissions tax.

On Thursday, Democratic leaders said the new plan would trim carbon emissions, create jobs and be simpler than the original Inslee-Fitzgibbon proposal.

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.

Fitzgibbon's bill fell a few votes below the 50 House Democratic supporters in behind-the-scenes discussions needed to guarantee that it would pass. Since then, Democratic leaders have been revising it to try to meet the 50-votethreshold.

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

Ericksen said he would be willing to give the new Democratic plan a hearing before the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. But Ericksen would not say what needs to be in the revamped plan for him to consider allowing a vote to get the legislation out of the committee.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


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 johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8