Washington voters weighed in on climate-related ballot measures that could reverberate throughout the country and become the nation’s first-ever carbon tax.
Initiative Measure 732 is losing, according to first-round results on Tuesday.
Fast facts on I-732
- A "yes" vote supported imposing a carbon emission tax on the sale or use of certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity
- A "no" vote opposed this proposal, keeping the tax structure unchanged.
- The initiative has started a clash among environmentalists in Washington state.
- The conflict among environmentalists come from a group who does not believes the tax does not do enough for environmental justice. Another group of environmentalists that believe climate policies should be important enough to stand on its own without social justice initiative, according to FiveThirtyEight.
- The tax is revenue neutral, meaning revenue from a carbon tax would replace old revenue from the sales tax and business tax.
Here’s what to know about the measure in detail
Washington’s proposed Initiative Measure 732 would impose a carbon emissions tax on the sale and use of some fossil fuels and electricity generated using fossil fuels beginning July 1, 2017. The measure is seen as a way to try to reduce the state’s carbon emissions and expedite its transition to clean energy.
Though about 90 percent of Washington’s electricity comes from low-carbon energy sources, mainly hydropower, nuclear and renewables, the state is the nation’s fifth-largest oil refiner and 26th largest carbon dioxide emitter.
Starting at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, the tax rate would increase to $25 per metric ton in July 2018, then increase 3.5 percent plus inflation annually until the rate reaches $100 per metric ton. The measure would also lower the state’s sales tax by 1 percent through 2018 in an effort to be revenue neutral and “shift” part of the state’s tax burden from shoppers to carbon emitters, according to the measure’s proponents.
However, analyses differ on how it is expected to affect state revenue. The Washington Office of Financial Management says the measure will cut the state’s revenue by $200 million annually. An analysis by the independent policy think tank Sightline Institute, however, shows that the measure is nearly revenue-neutral.
“It’s the only carbon pricing measure on any state ballot this November, and the first time U.S. voters have ever been directly asked whether we adopt a carbon tax other than in a few very liberal cities,” said Michael Lazarus, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute in Seattle. “If this comes close to passing (or passes) it will send a signal that Americans are far more open to a carbon tax – especially when pitched by an energetic grassroots effort – than polling alone often seems to suggest.”
Unlike the cap-and-trade system California implemented in 2012, Washington’s carbon tax would not cap carbon emissions if the measure passes. Some environmental groups and many state lawmakers oppose Measure 732 in part because it does not mirror California’s cap-and-trade program and because it does not invest in renewables.
“Revenues from (the measure’s) carbon tax would not be invested in ramping up jobs in clean fuels infrastructure or energy efficiency. Nor would they be invested in aiding communities impacted by polluting facilities or workers who will be caught in the transition process,” the Washington State Sierra Club said in a statement.
However, 51 University of Washington scientists, including 12 UW atmospheric scientists, have spoken out in favor of the measure.
“This revenue-neutral measure offers the most progressive change in our tax code in decades and represents a bipartisan effort that rejects ideology,” they said. “While many interrelated social and environmental needs demand our attention, complex problems are best solved one step at a time. I-732 is a simple step in the right direction.”
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