House Democrats put new wheels on Inslee carbon tax

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Washington House Democrats unveiled a revised carbon emissions tax plan Monday -- a proposal that attempts to be more palatable to the fuel industry and rural areas.

The original version of this legislation had stalled in the House because it was shy of the 50 Democratic votes needed to guarantee passage in the 98-member House. The House Democrats have 51 members.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Des Moines and the point man on the carbon legislation, said providing 50 Democratic votes for the new plan will depend on how it eventually fits in with the final budget package that the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-dominated Senate will eventually reach. Right now, the two sides are far apart in the talks on the main state budget.

Republicans opposed the original carbon tax plan because of a broad philosophical stance against any new tax revenue plus fears that a carbon emissions tax would drive up gasoline prices and push some businesses out of state.

Gov. Jay Inslee has pushed the concept as a way to simultaneously meet greenhouse-gas levels set by a 2008 law and to provide revenue for other state programs, especially education. Under the 2008 law, the state’s greenhouse emissions are supposed to reach 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions later.

The overall concept in the legislation 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. 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.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale and chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee, said he would be willing to hold a hearing on the revised House legislation if it passes that chamber. "We'll see if there are 50 votes in the House for a very big tax increase," Ericksen said. Like other Senate Republicans, Ericksen has opposed a carbon tax.

The House’s first step toward any vote on the measure is a hearing before the Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

So what is different with the revamped proposal? The changes are mostly with where the roughly $1.3 billion in biennial revenue in both versions would be allocated.

The new legislation will still spend $500 million to improve education in Washington, primarily to meet the requirements set by a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling. But instead of adding a few hundred million dollars to transportation projects, as Inslee originally wanted, the new version will reimburse fuel suppliers and distributors for their increased expenses in reducing carbon emissions and will upgrade economic support for the timber industry.

The proposed biennial allocations from the carbon emissions taxes include $500 million for K-12 education; $333 million for rebates to the fuel distributors and oil refineries, based on how much of their products are used within Washington; $193 million to forest-and mill-related economic development; and $108 million in tax rebates to low-income families. There would also be $53 million to cover compliance costs for energy-intensive and trade-exposed industries to ensure they remain competitive; $67.5 million to forest-related capital and habitat protection projects; and $21.5 million to help pay for fighting wildfires. The rest would go to for a variety of smaller programs.

“This is no longer just a climate change bill. This is a rural job-creation and recreational-access bill that helps reduce the state’s carbon emissions,” said Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who plans to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. “This program will create thousands of jobs in the renewable resource industry, including our working forests."


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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