OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington lawmakers have proposed a carbon fee as part of a transportation funding package, the third major attempt at limiting the atmosphere-warming gas through such a policy since 2018.
If passed the measure would be the first of its kind in the nation, but similar proposals in the state have failed even as scientists have ratcheted up dire climate warnings.
At $15 per ton, the fee would raise about $7.9 billion over the next 10 years, part of a $17.1 billion fee-and-bond package unveiled Thursday by Senate Transportation committee chairman Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens.
Despite the failure of earlier versions, signs point to the idea gaining popularity nationwide: At least 10 other states have already introduced carbon fee or tax proposals, amid warnings from scientists of significant negative global warming impacts including food shortages, wildfires, and a die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040.
The Washington package also includes a 6-cents-per-gallon fuel tax increase, and would fund projects including highway maintenance and the state ferry system. It would also fund federally-mandated culvert replacement projects, expected to cost $3.5 billion alone according to Hobbs' estimate.
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"If you look at this package as a whole it deals with both environmental and infrastructure needs," Hobbs said.
Sen. Curtis King, a Yakima Republican, said it was too soon to return to voters with another carbon fee proposal after the failure of a 2018 ballot measure on the issue. The initiative to create a carbon fee failed after opponents - including top donor Phillips 66, an oil company - outspent supporters 2-to-1, breaking state fundraising records by spending a total of about $30 million.
In addition, a 2018 carbon fee bill died in the Senate despite strong support from Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and despite Democrats having gained control of both chambers of the Legislature.
Hobbs said that he hoped language in this year's bill limiting future fuel standards and setting the carbon fee at a fixed rate, without increases over time, would appeal to business and petroleum groups that opposed previous measures. He also pointed to an earmarking feature of the bill, which targets funds from the carbon fee to state transportation purposes only.
Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Potlatch Democrat who caucuses with Republicans and has been a crucial vote for that party, said the proposal represented the best alternative for Republicans.
"Gov. Inslee and the Democrats are in the majority," Sheldon said. "They will have a carbon package that passes. And I'd like to see a package that is more akin to Hobbs' package."
Together the carbon fee and gas tax provide about $10 billion of the roughly $13.6 billion in fees in the package. Bonds add an additional $3.5 billion, bringing the total raised by bonds and fees in the package to just under $17.1 billion.
Hobbs acknowledged Thursday that the carbon fee and gas tax would likely give Washington the most expensive gas in the nation, sharing figures indicating the carbon fee would add about 15 cents per gallon, for a total increase of 21 cents per gallon.
Hobbs said he didn't have any immediate ideas about how to make up the large deficit that would be created in the plan should opponents cut the carbon tax out of the proposal.
Along with the carbon fee and gas tax, the package unveiled Thursday would also raise fees on commercial and private vehicles, property development, and electric vehicles, as well as taxes on rental cars, bicycles, and auto parts.
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