Arguments for and against I-1631’s carbon fees

Refinery towers and equipment

This April 2, 2010 file photo shows a Tesoro Corp. refinery, including a gas flare flame that is part of normal plant operations, in Anacortes, Wash. Voters in Washington state will once again decide whether to charge large industrial emitters a carbon pollution fee to address climate change, two years after rejecting a proposal for the nation's first carbon tax. (Photo by Ted S. Warren/AP Photo)

Crosscut solicited articles of 600 to 1,000 words for and against major initiatives and other issues on the November general ballot election ballot. We are publishing the articles together, with the argument in favor on top and the opposition argument below. You can jump to the opposition article by clicking the link below.

These articles are in support of, and then an argument, against Initiative 1631. 

The ballot title says: Initiative Measure No. 1631 concerns pollution. This measure would charge pollution fees on sources of greenhouse gas pollutants and use the revenue to reduce pollution, promote clean energy, and address climate impacts, under oversight of a public board. Should this measure be enacted into law?  

Voters are asked to say yes or no.

For Initiative 1631

Washington is united behind 1631 because our communities can't wait

Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, is the Past President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and a human rights attorney recognized by the United Nations as a global expert on indigenous rights.


Mike Stevens, Washington State Director for The Nature Conservancy, brings more than 20 years of experience in conservation, sustainable agriculture and field science to the role he’s filled since 2012. 


Washington is united behind I-1631, because our communities can’t wait

By Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, and Mike Stevens, Washington State Director for The Nature Conservancy

We have joined together in support of I-1631, the Clean Air and Clean Energy Initiative, because we recognize this is a powerful first step we can take together to address pollution. We know if we don’t act now, the problem of pollution will only get worse, causing more harm to local communities and pushing us farther away from a clean energy future.

I-1631 was co-authored by our state’s Tribal Nations, communities of color, labor unions, forward thinking businesses, and environmental groups to be a policy that works for Washington’s people and economy and is an effective solution to tackle the problem of pollution and a changing climate. It’s drawn support from leading scientists and organizations like the League of Women Voters and the American Lung Association, and Washington State Medical Association and flagship businesses like Microsoft, Expedia, REI, McKinstry, and Vigor Industrial.

The initiative would charge a fee on our state’s largest polluters and invest in clean energy, our state’s natural resources, and communities transitioning to a clean energy economy.

Pollution and climate change are the defining challenges of our time. The fisheries that the Quinault people have relied upon for millennia have been devastated by ocean acidification and warming sea temperatures, and the age-old Quinault villages of Taholah and Queets are at risk of catastrophic flooding due to sea level rise.

The same story can be told across the state, in our cities, towns and rural communities. Some 600,000 people in Washington are suffering from asthma and tens of thousands more deal with respiratory illness. Health professionals supporting I-1631 say a leading cause is the pollution in our air that harms our health every day. This is especially harmful for vulnerable communities; children and the elderly. More people continuing to suffer from bad air quality, high heat days and increasing threats of fire and drought. Places like Yakima had over 80 poor air quality days last year meaning it was unsafe to breath for all residents.

But we have hope.

Initiative 1631 gives us a powerful tool to address the effects of pollution and climate change while reducing the emissions we generate here in Washington. The Northwest’s leading environmental think tank the Sightline Institute estimates that Washington residents could save billions of dollars in health care savings by passing I-1631. It’s a practical and powerful step to protect our air and water, invest in new clean energy, and safeguard our health.

The science says these investments will reduce climate pollution in this state by making clean energy more affordable and available to everyone. We would be able to invest in proven technology like wind and solar, increasing fuel efficiency in vehicles, vessels, and trucks; promoting zero-emission transportation, making our homes and businesses more energy efficient saving money on our bills, and protecting our natural resources. All of this would put us on the path to a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous state.

I-1631 will also make game-changing investments in restoring our forests, rivers, farms and fisheries to the vibrant health required to support future generations of Washingtonians. Revitalizing and protecting our state’s working landscapes will create jobs on the ground in rural and tribal communities, places who need them most.

In fact, a University of Massachusetts study found that a policy like I-1631 would help create over 40,000 jobs, calling it a Green New Deal for Washington.

I-1631 would make unprecedented investments in the rural and historically disadvantaged communities that are facing the brunt of pollution’s impacts. I-1631 ensures one-third of investments go directly to those communities facing high rates of poverty and pollution. It would provide the resources to protect and empower our state’s tribal communities, which have borne the cost of our failure to prevent pollution and protect our home.

But Washingtonians face a menacing opponent.

The No on I-1631 has raised the most money of any election in Washington state history entirely funded by out-of-state oil companies. Almost all of their funding — 99.5 percent— of their funding comes from Phillips 66, Andeavor, Chevron, BP and others have raised $26 million to spread misinformation, fear, and outright lies about this initiative. Why spend such an unprecedented amount? Because they know if we finally stand together and invest in a cleaner solutions we will finally begin to move away from oil. That means a healthier stronger community for us but less profits for them.

They have flooded our airwaves and packed our mailboxes with completely debunked information. They tell us it won’t work, that it will cost too much, and we need a better policy. But that’s what they have said year, after year, after year. We are tired of them telling us no. We are tired of them telling us we can’t build a better cleaner future. We represent the largest most diverse coalition this state has ever seen. We are frontline communities, experts, health professionals, environmentalists; those who have the greatest stake in reducing pollution. We know together, Washington is stronger than their money.

I-1631 is the thoughtful, comprehensive, compassionate, and scientifically supported response to the impacts of pollution that Washington State deserves. That’s why papers across the state like the Olympian, The Stranger, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and Lewiston Tribune have all endorsed I-1631. It reflects our highest values, and the best available science, and brings us meaningfully closer to building the type of society that thrives in the face of challenges. It will invest in the cleaner future we all want and leave a healthy future for our kids and grandkids.

We can take this step together and Vote Yes on I-1631.

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Against Initiative 1631

Study shows $30 billion will deliver little change

Bob Edwards is a former president of the Puget Sound Regional Council; past president of the Port of Seattle Board of Commissioners; past president of the Association of Washington Cities and a former Renton City council member now living in Bellevue.


Sometime in the next week — in between shuttling kids to soccer practice, picking up the groceries and commuting to work, you’re going to need to make an informed decision on Initiative 1631 — the energy tax initiative.

While the aim of the measure is to “do something” for the environment, the research shows very little climate change in return for the investment.

There have been two great "energizations" of Washington state’s economy. The results have been mixed, with soaring success and abject failure.  The first great energization was the construction of the Bonneville dams on the Columbia River, a development that, as singer Woody Guthrie famously noted, changed our darkness to dawn. The second great energization was the Washington Public Power Supply System, a public power dream in which five nuclear plants would produce electricity so cheap it needn’t be metered. When it unraveled in the 1980s, WPPSS defaulted on billions of dollars in municipal bonds, the largest such default in U.S. history.

Today we sit just days from an election that asks us to pay for a third energization.

What do we really know about I-1631? Not very much, it turns out. The Yes side has spent an entire campaign avoiding talk of costs or what projects might get money. And when it comes to what should be the initiative’s most important aspect, reducing greenhouse gases, even its advocates dissemble: “It’s hard to prove how well the measure will guarantee lower emissions,” write otherwise credulous editors of The Olympian newspaper.

Hard to prove? For $30 billion over 15 years, we deserve an answer.

I urge you to spend the next few minutes looking into the facts of it. Because the cost of those trips to soccer, to the grocery store and to work? They’re about to go up, indefinitely, if I-1631 is approved.

First, let’s look at I-1631 sets out to do: I-1631 would impose a $15 fee per ton on certain carbon emissions beginning in 2020. The fee would increase by $2 each year plus inflation, quadrupling within 15 years, with no limit on high it could go.

Then, the measure exempts large polluters from the tax, forcing farmers, small businesses and consumers to pay more — more for home heating, for transportation fuels, for food, etc.

The proposal also sets up a 15-member board of unelected special interests, who are allowed to spend the taxes generated by this measure any way they wish. There is no spending plan articulated in the ballot measure — it is up to the board how they choose to spend the revenue generated under I-1631.

All of this is established to help the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15 years. If it fails to meet those goals, there is no penalty, and the taxes continue on, indefinitely. All of this, straight from the pages of Initiative 1631.

So now let’s look at the research. The state budget office did its own examination and found that 1631 would increase energy taxes by $2.3 billion in the first five years alone. In addition, I-1631 would add hundreds of millions of dollars to ratepayers’ energy bills for higher costs for utilities. And under I-1631, taxes would continue to automatically increase every year — indefinitely, with no set cap, and no further voter approval. That’s the government’s own analysis.

The only independent research conducted in this campaign so far — by either side — on the economic and environmental impact of the initiative puts up some compelling numbers.

The independent study was conducted by NERA Economic Consulting, led by researchers who have conducted extensive research into global climate change policy for the US Environmental Protection Agency, various state environmental agencies and the European Union.   

According to NERA, I-1631 would raise $30 billion in taxes over the next 15 years. In 2020, the first year of the measure, researchers say I-1631 would result in an additional $440 for the average Washington household. It would jump to $990 per household 15 years later in 2035.

NERA researchers also say these additional costs will have consequences. The study anticipates a loss of income to workers equivalent to 9,000 jobs in 2020, rising to 21,000 jobs in 2035.  Eighty percent of these jobs would come from the sectors not exempted under the measure. This includes jobs in the hospitality, health care, retail and service industries. And these figures already factor in any green jobs the initiative would create in the clean energy sector. 

Finally, the study looked at the most important factor: Will all these added costs actually impact climate change?

NERA’s analysis: After 15 years and $30 billion in new taxes, the state would not reach its goal and would leave 93 percent of greenhouse gas emissions untouched.

So, we would all pay more – for trips to the soccer field, the grocery story, to work. For every item we order online, for every click of a thermostat, it would cost us all more. And Initiative 1631 will make no difference when it comes to significantly reducing greenhouse gases. But it would cost jobs, weaken the economy and increase costs to all consumers while leaving in place a tax set to continue indefinitely.

Cliff Mass, the noted University of Washington professor of atmospheric science, said it best in his recent blog: “If you care about global warming and the Washington state environment, one cannot support this poorly designed initiative that will do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, will not serve as example to the nation, and which has no real plan to spend huge sums of money.  Its passage will stand in the way of more effective approaches.”

Join me and vote no on 1631.

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