Don’t Call It a Tax: Inside Washington’s Attempt to Pass a “Fee On Pollution”

Lambert here: Organizing around diversity to build support for a market-based solution. We’ll see!

By Kate Yoder, News editor of Grist magazine. .

Beth Brunton’s magenta umbrella shields her from the weather on an April afternoon in Seattle. It’s a curious sight, because today is the first day in months without a drop of rain. It’s 75 degrees, and there’s not a cloud in the sky.

“It gets their attention,” she says about her umbrella, as a diverse array of bare-armed people wearing sunglasses pass by on the brick-red campus of Seattle Central College. Brunton stops a young black woman.

“Have you signed to put clean energy on the ballot?” Brunton asks.

The woman stops to listen to the pitch, then shakes her head: No, she can’t sign, because she’s not registered to vote. A lot of people Brunton approaches aren’t — too young, no home address, just a tourist passing through. One man had a felony conviction and hadn’t yet registered to vote again.

Brunton got 40 signatures in the two hours she spent hunting down voters on a street corner at the edge of campus. It’s a sliver of the 260,000 that the initiative, also known as the “Protect Washington Act,” needs in order to appear on the ballot this November. If it passes, would become the first fee on carbon in the country — and the first law adopted by a state that looks anything like a carbon tax.

Just two years ago, Washingtonians rejected a “carbon tax” initiative, which would have initially charged businesses $25 per metric ton of emissions before ramping up over time. The debate over I-732 drove a rift between progressives. While it found some , from Leonardo DiCaprio to the state’s Audubon Society, it was criticized by , the , and .

This time around, the coalition behind the Protect Washington Act is taking a different tack, rebranding the effort to put a price on carbon and bringing the climate conversation to the streets in hopes of generating broad support. The initiative proposes a “fee on pollution” that would put a $15 charge on each metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted in Washington starting in 2020. That charge would rise by $2 inflation every year until the state meets its climate goals, which include cutting its carbon footprint . The revenue raised would go toward investing in clean energy; protecting the air, water, and forests; and helping vulnerable communities prepare for wildfires and sea-level rise.

The groups behind the proposal are “hands-down the most diverse coalition I’ve seen in 20 years,” says Aiko Schaefer, director of — an alliance of organizations advocating for low-income residents and people of color that played a key role in drafting the new initiative.

Experts agree that putting a price on carbon is for a government to act on climate change. And public opinion polls have found that of Washington voters — including of the state’s Republicans — would support a measure to regulate carbon pollution. But no one has successfully managed to craft a policy that satisfies the whole environmental movement or the electorate.

There are reasons to believe that this time could be different. If I-1631 passes, it could serve as a template for an approach that could one day go national, state by state. Groups in Oregon and in Northeastern states have reached out to the initiative’s backers, inspired by Washington’s approach. And you can bet that they — and others — will be watching this fall.


In the days following the elections in November 2016, as progressives grappled with the idea of President-elect Donald Trump, an opinion research firm interviewed Washington voters to find out what went wrong with I-732. It’s not that the electorate didn’t want action on climate change — 67 percent said they did. But said they saw the carbon tax as “too flawed” and wanted to wait for a better measure to come along.

That failed initiative was criticized for its lack of ambition. Opponents argued that it wouldn’t , , or . Others complained that groups representing low-income communities and people of color had been left out of the drafting process. Proponents acknowledged all the criticism, but countered that these weren’t good enough reasons for environmentalists to thwart .

Earlier this year, State Senator Reuven Carlyle, who represents neighborhoods in Northwest Seattle, proposed a carbon tax that would fund clean energy initiatives and assist low-income residents by . But the bill lost the support of groups like the Quinault Indian Nation on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Matthew Randazzo, the Quinault’s policy representative, says the tribe thought that its needs weren’t addressed. In the end, Carlyle’s bill on March 1.

that his state’s voters will approve the Protect Washington Act than the state legislature will manage to pass a carbon tax. “Frequently, the public transforms faster than politicians recognize,” he tells Grist. “I think that is true on climate change.”

Inslee has endorsed the initiative but says that if it fails, the legislature will be back working on another carbon-pricing proposal next session. “One way or another,” the governor explains, “we’re going to get this job done.”

Legislative failures have stymied efforts to curb carbon emissions across the country for more than a decade. An attempt to pass a national cap-and-trade program, the Waxman-Markey bill, passed a Democrat-controlled House in 2009, then failed to come up for a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Its demise ushered in a “bleak time” for environmentalists, says , executive director of the Climate Solutions, a Pacific Northwest-based clean energy nonprofit.

Although and have since figured out how to get regional cap-and-trade schemes rolling, Washington and Oregon — two reliably progressive states — have struck out. (Earlier this year, Oregon ditched its .) The blame falls not on the usual suspects — Big Oil, Big Coal, — but on environmentalists themselves. The groups working to protect mountains and rivers, promote climate action, and advance social justice often disagree about how things should be done.

Small says that after some post-Waxman-Markey soul-searching, Washington’s climate groups realized the issue: Their makeup was too white and white-collar to build the sort of support needed to pass ambitious legislation. So they began to reach out to grassroots organizations around the state to form a broader coalition that could wield more political power.

“This went from relatively a small handful of predominantly white-led environmental organizations,” Small says, “to a table of shared power and decision-making between labor and environmental organizations and communities of color.”

The ultimate goal wasn’t just to develop relationships with these communities and get their votes on the ballot. It was to create climate legislation that filled in the gaps of previous bills, benefiting the widest swath of people possible and representing voices that often get ignored. The thinking was that such a measure could be bulletproof against attacks from the left — and as a result, more likely to win over blue voters in Washington.

This new coalition started work on crafting legislation in late 2014. First, it looked south, borrowing from California’s cap-and-trade program, which went into effect more than a decade ago. Although that bill, AB-32, in 2006, grassroots advocates opposed it, arguing that it wouldn’t decrease pollution in low-income areas and communities of color.

A couple years after the program went into effect, that criticism . Emissions in some parts of California where air quality was already bad, says Manuel Pastor, director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California. That put people at even greater risk for asthma and cancer. California has since introduced legislation addressing local pollution problems, thanks largely to a growing number of Latinos from those polluted neighborhoods winning seats in the California State Assembly.

Seeing what happened in California, Washington groups working on the proposal that would become the Protect Washington Act sought to bake justice into their climate-legislation recipe, starting the conversation with communities that suffer the most from carbon emissions. A unique mishmash of businesses, labor unions, faith communities, environmental organizations, public health groups, and communities of color fused in January 2015 into a formal organization committed to developing the then-budding climate policy: the . Members say they hope to show other states that a grassroots coalition is the way to win.


But before it could become an example for the other 49 states, the Alliance needed to make amends with a group that was key to the success of its climate proposal: the Native American tribes of Washington.

Last summer, the Alliance met with tribal leaders asking them to endorse the carbon fee. According to Fawn Sharp, president of both the Quinault and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Alliance hadn’t sought meaningful back from indigenous communities at that time. Sharp says that’s not surprising, since tribes had not been seriously consulted in any previous carbon pricing proposals in Washington state, either.

After that meeting, Sharp and other tribal leaders announced they were considering on the ballot in 2018. Climate change is an urgent matter for the Quinault Indian Nation, which is frantically drawing up plans because of sea-level rise.

They later scrapped their proposal after reaching an agreement with the Alliance. Six months of discussions with 29 different tribes brought forth what Matthew Randazzo, the policy consultant for the Quinault, calls “the most rigorous and extensive tribal consultation anyone I’ve been working with has ever encountered.” And as a result, I-1631 addresses myriad tribal issues, from generating aid to assist with the coastal relocation of the Quinault to mitigating the wildfire threats faced by tribes in eastern Washington.

“We said, ‘Look, for us to endorse this, tribal nations need to have a role — we need to have a voice, we need to be consulted, ” Sharp tells Grist. “And to their credit, they responded right away.”

Other groups were also wary at first. Getting approached by predominantly white environmental groups “almost felt like being tokenized,” says Edgar Franks of , which works with immigrant farmworkers in northwest Washington. So Franks and leaders of other grassroots groups formed their own partnership, , to figure out how to negotiate with the traditional greens.

Last summer, Front and Centered held a series of “” where people voiced their concerns about climate and environmental burdens. Across the state, people of color, low-income households, immigrants, and refugees took part. Franks then took the ideas he gathered from this extended community back to the Alliance.

When talking to agricultural laborers about climate legislation, Franks says, representatives from Community to Community eschewed scientific facts and figures in favor of asking about people’s perceptions of the world around them. They posed questions like: Have you noticed it’s been getting hotter? Have you been getting headaches? Do you think higher temperatures have anything to do with you getting sick?

“The science is important,” Franks explains. “But in our community, if you talk about science, it’s a way to not get invited back into the conversation.”

From an environmental standpoint, the main concern among Franks’ constituency is pesticide exposure, which many farmworkers say causes headaches. Although I-1631 doesn’t address pesticides, it’s safe to say that climate change is making their lives more difficult. After all, they toil long hours to meet harvest quotas and don’t get breaks or days off when ambient conditions become dangerous — like when temperatures soar over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or when wildfire smoke hangs heavy in the air.

Another concern is that higher fuel prices could hurt the agriculture industry. Thus, the carbon fee is designed to exempt diesel fuel used solely for agricultural purposes, like transporting produce from a farm.

It also exempts some industries, like aluminum. These so-called “energy-intensive, trade-exposed” industries have prices for their commodities set by international markets. Some worry that if they’re charged extra to operate in Washington, they could pick up shop and pollute elsewhere.

Schaefer from Front and Centered says she hopes Washington can work with these industries to bring down emissions while also keeping them in the state. “We want to hold large corporate polluters responsible for the mess they’re creating,” she says. “But we don’t want to make people poor or have workers lose their jobs in the process.”

As a result, the Protect Washington Act includes a provision to set aside a minimum of $50 million a year to help protect workers “who are affected by the transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.” That money would go toward protecting incomes and benefit plans for everyone from farm workers to refinery workers, as well as supporting job retraining.

These accommodations for labor, Franks says, are a big reason why he thinks farmworkers are supporting the initiative. That along with the feeling that their concerns were heard for once.

“It’s not just a policy for us,” Franks says. “It’s personal.”


Today, the larger environmental movement is in the bumpy process of shifting from . This undertaking of building relationships and trust between communities takes a long time, as environmental advocates in Washington have discovered in their nearly decade-long quest to put forward a carbon-pricing measure that disparate groups could support.

While people like Matthew Randazzo and Aiko Schaefer laud the Protect Washington Act, there are some who think it has plenty of flaws. Critics like the duo behind the 2016 carbon-tax proposal, economist Yoram Bauman and environmental activist Joe Ryan, that the proposal’s approach is likely to turn off Republicans, independents, and anyone who instinctively votes against taxes.

“What’s fundamentally important about climate action in Washington state, which accounts for about 0.3 percent of global carbon emissions, is increasing the odds of climate action in Washington, D.C.,” . “That will happen under the Alliance’s unite-the-left approach only if the Democrats can build a national majority considerably stronger than the one currently led by the Republicans. That’s a tall order.”

Small of Climate Solutions says that “uniting the left” is not a fair characterization of the Alliance for Clean Jobs and Energy. While he admits it is “fundamentally an alignment of progressive voices,” the broader coalition behind the initiative includes representatives people from across the political spectrum, including businesses.

“I think it’s a very well balanced proposal,” says Governor Inslee, siding with Small. “It’s moderate in the sense that it responds to the needs of a broad spectrum of people, not one ideology or one ethnic group.”

The first words that the Washington electorate read when it voted on the 2016 ballot measure were “.” The new proposal avoids the dreaded t-word. After all, it’s technically a fee — like a highway toll. Whereas revenue from a general tax might go toward whatever the government decides to spend it on, a fee ensures that funds go straight to a designated purpose. In the case of I-1631, that means 70 percent goes to investing in clean energy and clean air, 25 percent goes to maintaining water sources and forests, and 5 percent goes to helping communities throughout the state prepare and adapt to challenges caused by climate change.

Moneys in the account must be used for programs, activities, or projects to prepare communities for challenges caused by climate change and to ensure that the impacts of climate change are not disproportionately borne by certain populations.

But tweaking the language from “tax” to “fee” isn’t a magic trick that will finally make a climate bill appear in Washington state, says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. He warns that the Alliance can’t run away from the t-word.

“As soon as the opponents start organizing,” Leiserowitz says, “they’re going to call it a tax.”

What’s more, detractors are likely to point out that while a carbon price will be charged to polluters — — Washington residents are likely to pay part of the costs when they fill up their cars with gas or pay their utility bills, Leiserowitz says.

For now, I-1631 just needs to win over the people of Washington state, which has looked like a progressive stronghold in recent years. The state legalized same-sex marriage ahead of the curve in 2012 and became the first to legalize recreational marijuana. Two years later, Seattle was among the first cities to adopt a $15 minimum wage.

“This is a place of innovation, a place where broad and progressive ideas spread across the country,” Schaefer says. “And we believe this initiative will be the same.”

The Protect Washington Act is on track to exceed its goal of 260,000 signatures before the end of June, according to Nick Abraham of Washington Conservation Voters. That’s despite just clearing the halfway mark by the end of May.

Even if the Protect Washington Act fails, the groups who feel like people are finally involving them in the democratic process are going to hold down that space and fight for it. In that respect, Franks of Community to Community says many of state’s residents, like the farm workers he represents, have already won.

“Being treated with respect and dignity and being heard, that goes further than any policy.”

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

28 comments

  1. kimyo

    let’s say a miracle occurs and bill gates gives washington state $10 billion to fund ‘climate mitigation’.

    what should they spend the cash on? teslas? tesla semis?

    the fee or tax or whatever you’d like to call it will only be spent building bridges to nowhere.

    unless/until a viable means of portable storage is developed, we’ll never run the semis, snow plows, garbage trucks and school buses on renewables.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Ah, Teslas. Funny that. Putin was asked about electric cars at his annual question and answer session () and here is what happened-

      “… a blogger wanted to know why there are virtually no electric cars in Russia. Putin explained that electric cars actually mostly run on coal, which is what’s used to generate the electricity they run on, and coal is not an environmentally friendly fuel … The blogger … was positively shocked by this bit of non-news. Teslas burn coal, very inefficiently; I hope you already knew this.”

      1. LifelongLib

        FWIW, I made a similar point on another thread, that unless the shift to electric cars is accompanied by a shift to renewable sources of electricity, it’s just a less efficient way to burn fossil fuels. Another poster responded IIRC that it’s not so simple, that in fact the two tend to drive (npi) each other.

      2. oh

        Electric cars shift the source of pollution to power generation facilities. Unless one installs PV on his roof and uses solar energy to charge his electric car, he has no control on what fuels the power plant. However, if we could force power generation to solar, wind and hydro, we can reduce the CO2 generation of these facilities.

        1. chuck roast

          Remember, under Title V of the Clean Air Act, all major utility sources in the US are permitted. Their emissions are determined and calculated. CO, NOx, etc. The amount of remediation from pollution control equipment is also calculated.
          Agreed, it’s a hoot that all electric cars are pretty much virtue signaling, but at least their environmental costs can be determined (and priced) at their source.
          Oh, and Waxman/Markey cap-and-trade? The original pollution grifters wet dream.

    2. pretzelattack

      we have batteries, and electric plugs are quite common. we need to switch to renewables asap. that is the only thing that will mitigate the damage, no quotation marks needed.

      1. kimyo

        if you’re referring to lithium-ion batteries, how many more ‘dead in fiery crash’ tesla stories will you need to hear before you agree that they are not a suitable technology for transport.

        also, mining, refining and transporting the lithium/cobalt etc. is primarily accomplished with fossil fuels.

        1. Grebo

          Is it your impression that lithium batteries are a greater fire hazard than a tank full of gasoline?

          Are you implying that only technologies that can bootstrap themselves carbon-free should be pursued?

          1. kimyo

            Are you implying that only technologies that can bootstrap themselves carbon-free should be pursued?

            i’m saying that we should not pretend that a solution exists. for instance, ethanol from corn is NOT a solution, yet it has gobbled up billions of tax dollars.

            likewise, tesla automobiles are NOT a solution. lithium ion based cars are a dead end. absent the generosity of the american taxpayer musk would have gone ‘bankwupt’ a long time ago.

            and yes, it is quite clear that lithium ion batteries present a greater fire hazard:

            After Friday’s fiery fatal crash of a Tesla Model X on U.S. Highway 101, police and firefighters are assessing how emergency response will need to change in a world where electric cars are becoming more common.

            On Monday, Caltrans workers were at the scene, clearing debris and repairing a freeway divider that was damaged when the Tesla crashed into it and was struck by two other cars before becoming engulfed in flames. The crash shut down a carpool ramp and two lanes of the freeway for almost 6 hours — twice as long as most accidents of this type, said Ofc. Art Montiel, a spokesperson for the California Highway Patrol.

            “Because the battery was exposed, we were unsure whether it was safe for us to move the vehicle,” Montiel said.

            Mountain View’s Fire Department typically puts out a car fire in minutes. But according to Chief Juan Diaz, this is the first time the department has had to deal with a Tesla battery that was split open and on fire.

            Made up of more than 7,000 individual cells, many of them strewn across several lanes of the freeway, the battery was both an electrocution hazard and a fire hazard, the chief said. Lithium-ion batteries damaged from impact can go into a state called “thermal runaway.”

            “The battery itself overheats, the plastic components that separate the modules of the battery begin to ignite, and eventually, you wind up with a battery that is on fire,” he said, adding that lithium ignites at a temperature of more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

            The fire department opted to call Tesla, whose engineers came out to test and dismantle as much of the battery as they could, while firefighters looked on.

            “This is the first time that we’ve had to consult Tesla to have them respond to the scene,” Chief Diaz said.

            In this case, that included a fire engine company that escorted the Tesla to a tow yard, and then stood guard for hours.

            “Even after 24 hours of extinguishment, these (lithium) ion batteries could reignite if they’ve been damaged, and again cause a fire,” Diaz said.

            Fire crews arrived to the scene of the accident around 9:30 a.m. Chief Diaz said the last engine company went back into service around 4:30 p.m. In a gasoline car fire, he said, all companies would’ve likely been back in service within minutes.

    3. UserFriendly

      unless/until a viable means of portable storage is developed, we’ll never run the semis, snow plows, garbage trucks and school buses on renewables.

      On that note there . That the Atlantic, as usual, brings no context to. Here is the for the CC part and while I can’t personally back up their math, the chemistry is plausible. There are still potential flaws as well; but they did run several pilot plants so that isn’t nothing.

  2. synoia

    Semis: Use Trains
    Snow plows: By hand
    Garbage Trucks: Eliminate Packeging and ban plastic
    School Buses: Fit Tracks

    1. oh

      Use local sources to cut down use of fossil fuel. Use less.
      If you need something buy used stuff in lieu of new.
      Drive less, bike or walk more.
      Build more mass transportation.

  3. Disturbed Voter

    There is a carbon tax already … the gasoline tax. Washington state like all governments are relying on the public to be morons.

    1. pretzelattack

      how so? the public is interested in avoiding the worst consequences of climate change, from what i’ve seen. some government programs work pretty well, like medicare, public schools. libraries. etc. etc. etc.

  4. John B

    I hope that when Canada, Europe, and the rest of the world consider retaliation against Trump’s tariffs, they consider applying a carbon tariff to US goods. Many US products are still made with coal energy, and US coal interests are driving many of Trump’s policies. Going after coal especially would both help the environment and apply pressure to one of Trump’s chief constituencies.

  5. Norb

    The groundswell of political support for environmental protection must come from the bottom-up, in the form of reduced consumption and the boycotting of dirty industries and companies. This alone is an enormous task due to the fundamental lifestyle change that it entails. But what better way to actually empower the citizenry with something lasting. Instead of trying to force existing companies to change their bad, destructive habits. A more productive effort is supporting responsible companies and creating new relationships from scratch. The main political effort is focused on parallel construction, not political conversion. True political power comes from lifestyle choices, and the ability to enforce terms of agreement between parties.

    Thinking this way puts into question most of todays relationships. An empowered citizenry is the last thing desired by an oligarchy, but is essential in correcting environmental destruction.

    American Empire, and by extension, capitalist organization proved its unsuitability as a social model by not acknowledging the need to transform itself once the potential to eliminate scarcity and want were within sight. Instead, the effort by a few focused on ensuring conflict and convincing the world population that this view of abundance is a dream and competitive forces are all that matter. Basic human needs are replaced with consumption.

    The main problem is not production, but distribution. Externalities, waste, and coercion are the foundation of the current system. Attempts at autarky are discouraged and ultimately crushed.

    Capitalist production and conflict are on track to destroy the environment upon which all depends. The subsequent crash in both population numbers and the ability for the natural environment to recover will be the legacy of this thinking- if remembered at all.

    Very sobering, but sheds light onto today social problems. Capitalist production without any social goal is probably the greatest destructive force ever conceived of by humans. Drunk with power is a fitting description.

    How best to end the binge is the question.

    Just say No is one powerful response. Having ones cake and eating it too is the fundamental barrier to change. In the end, most of us are not going to have any cake to eat under the current system. It will be learn how to be your own baker- or a beggar seeking crumbs.

    1. Pespi

      I sympathize with you, but the biggest changes in lifestyle have been mandated by government. Think rationing during ww2 or banning leaded gas. Convincing a hundreds of millions of people to change individually is a massive task, changing the rules so that the right thing is the only acceptable thing is much faster.

  6. JacobiteInTraining

    I agree with this viewpoint. If one was into bumperstickers, one would distill it down to “Think globally, act locally” when posted upon ones gas guzzling SUV.

    A short example being the way a Mal-Wart or a Home Despot comes to a town and after a few short years has caused the locally owned stores to close, the downtown to shutter, and a throbbing excessive sea of pavement & parking lots to appear around it….paving over what was likely a meadow, or a forest, or a family farm, before it was ‘modernized’ in the name of growth and development.

    The county’s old/existing tax base was hollowed out after the big box stores arrived….and yet it was reduced initially in ‘incentives’ to get the stores to come in the first place and provide ‘McJobs’. We lose money on every sale…but do not worry, we make it up in volume.

    Snarky old quote to go with…made of recycled electrons & provided at no extra charge (being 100% generated from solar from search to post on laptop) “…Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell…”
    –Edward Abbey

    1. Tony Wright

      “We make it up in volume”; yeah, along with shorter timespan before it ends up in landfill or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Thats progress for you. But at least the Amazon and other shareholders are happy… For now anyway…..
      “The ideology of a cancer cell”, I like it – humans are dominating and overrunning and trashing the planet with our endless growth.
      “Contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste” . A small part of a speech given by Chief Seattle to President Franklin Pierce in 1854.
      Sadly the wisdom of Chief Seattle is only ,belatedly, being listened to today.
      However, until such time that a worldwide constraint on human overbreeding ( i.e. More than two children per woman) is agreed, our self inflicted problems will continue and escalate, despite any successes in constraining carbon emissions.
      As a biologist I can only despair the ignorance, stupidity, denial and collective myopia displayed by the human race, supposedly the only sentient species on the planet – what a sick joke…..

  7. TG

    1. This is irrelevant. No matter how much any single person ‘conserves,’ it will be overwhelmed by massive population increases (which are, mostly, due to direct and indirect pro-natalist government policies). The per-capita energy consumption of the United States is well below that of the 1970’s, but by adding about 100 million new people to the population, total energy consumption has increased. So did that help or hurt the environment? China has per capita about a third the energy consumption of the United States – and produces net more greenhouse gases. Assuming that it doesn’t collapse, India is slated to soon produce more greenhouse gases than China and the United States combined, but the per-capita standard of living will continue to be inferior to late medieval England. Meanwhile Norway has very high per-capita energy costs, but net produces very little impact on the environment. So if you REALLY want to save the planet, what should one focus on? But that’s not what we are forcing on, is it? So what is it that this is really trying to achieve?

    2. If we use conservation not to reduce net environmental impact, but only to free up resources to allow the rich to jam in ever more people, we are not saving the environment. We are learning to love our poverty. I can see the rich really liking that part.

    3. The rich love regressive taxes. Yes, let’s tax the production and consumption of useful goods and services, and subsidize parasitic finance. Don’t you want to save the planet?

  8. Eric

    To this retired consulting engineer in Washington state Inslee has demonstrated a lack of technical depth and a disregard for economic challenges facing our lower income neighbors. Folks would climb aboard climate incentive taxes enthusiastically if proposed alongside equal reduction in our regressive taxes. Sadly, like Seattle council members, he can’t do math. We all hope we will find another Dan Evans, (former Gov and senator, engineer and R)

  9. lyman alpha blob

    The gist of this seems to be playing semantics to push through a market-based solution which in general tend to help large corporations. At least the author linked to the piece by Naomi Klein, because Klein is right and shoots this weak-tea solution down.

    If you want to reduce carbon, a ban would be far more effective. Not popular, but desperate times and all…

    That, and as TG mentions above, stop making so many people. We currently incentivize population increase by allowing for tax deductions for multiple children. You want a plan that caps something, cap the tax deductions for dependents at 2-3 per family.

    1. john c. halasz

      Actually, Naomi Klein is a muddle-headed thinker, resorting to hand-waving and quasi-leftist boiler-plate about a “grass roots” popular movement for “climate justice” that would somehow be perfectly “democratic”, without ever actually thinking through any options or taking any decisive positions on them. (That amounts in some degree to just bad faith). Her “Nation” piece opposing the prior referendum was an instance of her obfuscatory muddle.

      In fact, the prior proposal was slightly better than the current one. It would have started at $15/ton in 2017 and raised it to $25 this year, but after that it was just raised by 3.5% yearly inflation, so that by 2035 the carbon price would be around $41. The current proposal would start at $15 in 2020 and add $2 inflation such that the 2035 price would be around $43. But the carve-outs for agriculture and “energy-intensive” business would be much greater than the prior across the board proposal and the money would not be rebate 100%, but not at all, excluding the protections or buffering for low income people entirely. (If “energy intensive” means aluminum, Grand Coulee dam, which was completed in 1942, just in time for the War and is the largest hydro-electric generator in the U.S. at 6200 MW, which is why Boing located in WA state, largely takes care of that issue without GHG emissions).

      The whole point of carbon pricing is to shift the relative prices of carbon emissions vs. alternatives. (The World Bank convened a panel of economists in conjunction with the Bonn COP meeting last year headed by Joe Stiglitz and Nicolas Stern and they recommended a carbon price of $40-80/ton by 2020 and $50/100 by 2030. Just taking the mid-point of that range that would be $60 by 2020 and $75 by 2030. So both WA proposals fall far short). Stripping out fossil fuel subsidies is not an alternative but a complement to carbon prices. And denying that relative prices don’t matter is just substituting abstract moralism for actual functional analysis. Nor is carbon pricing meant to achieve “social justice” by redistributing income, but simply to reduce demand for fossil fuels and improve the prospects for renewable alternatives, partly by influencing investment decisions by households, businesses large and small and governments, given a robust and guaranteed schedule of increases. (If you want to redistribute income and wealth, other policy options such as raising wages or taxing high levels of wealth and income would be in order. If you target multiple objectives with a single policy control variable, you wont achieve any objectives). And other than a buffering for low income households that can’t readily adjust, rebates provide for investments and adjustments, from myriad point sources, and should be targeted toward the places where fossil fuel usage occurs most, which is largely middle class households and especially businesses which are the largest users of fossil fuel energy, which also have the most ability to adjust in response to incentives. In fact, businesses which must operate on explicit cost accounting would likely be the most responsive compared to households. So there is no question here of simply “subsidizing” businesses, which at any rate will pass their costs onto customers if they want to remain competitively in business. “Polluter pays” means all of us in the current fossil fuel based economy, who must bear the social costs if we’re to meet the challenge of AGW&CD, not just evil corporations.

      I for one don’t think that a carbon tax would suffice for actually meeting the challenge of AGW&CD and achieving an environmentally sustainable economy and society. I think it would require massive and sustained public investment, regulation and an indicative publicly guided industrial policy. But carbon pricing is an essential policy in the overall mix and since we live in an extensively capitalist system a crucial starting point, regardless if one buys into the ideological myth of “free” markets and solely “market-based” solutions. However that would have to take place at the national federal level, which is the only level with relative fiscal autonomy. And of course we need a national carbon tax, since that would allow for its imposition on imports, which at $3.5 tn is already a large slice of the global economy and effects other nations as well. But states, not being currency issuers, are constrained by a cyclical balanced budget requirement, and can’t simply go it alone. State-by-state proposals are motivated by the impasses of our reactionary Federal government system.

      Here in VT the proposal was for a $10 tax to reach $100 in ten years witha 90% rebate a few years back. But that got nowhere and currently the liberal NGO are proposing a $5 to reach $40 in 8 years, caving in as usual to the failure of their own “business model”. I have suggested a revolving loan program to the tune of 1% of GDP to supplement a robust carbon tax schedule, lowering the upfront cost of converting to renewables and efficiencies for households and businesses, by lowering the interest rates and thus both the hurdle rate and payback time for such investments out of rebates, which involve high initial costs and low or no incremental or marginals costs compared to extant fossil fuel based systems. The state wouldn’t even have to borrow money for such a program, but could simply offer loan guarantees up to 90% for local banks and credit unions, which would save on administrative overhead, whatever the credit rating agencies would say. And such a targeted credit policy would amount to a local fiscal stimulus, by speeding the rate of conversions and employing tradesmen with the multiplier effects of such generally well-paid employment. But with our current Rep. governor there is no prospect of any carbon tax and the petty squabbling of Dembots without mounting any serious challenge makes me think that relying on local like federal politicians means that we will never be pro-active enough in meeting the challenge in timely fashion.

      But “banning carbon” is about as useful a suggestion as banning respiration. Yes, you can hold your breath as long as you want, but you’ll just be leaving the rest of us behind on earth as you ascend to the heavens.

      Naomi Klein is about as far left as 350.org allows. Bill McKibben is really nothing but a center-left Democratic liberal, even more muddled and useless. But who elected these celebrity journalists as our fearless leaders?

  10. JTMcPhee

    The fundamental structural problem, seems to me, is that the Rulers know it’s “Apres ils, le deluge,” nicely contextualized and parsed here:

    They get to live out their increasingly debased lives in the extreme pleasures and comforts that concentrated wealth provides, with that almost unbeatable combination of impunity and immunity. Even the badness that’s happening and worsening, the climate change and rising seas and all, are just “opportunities to loot,” so they apply the same social and political and business and financial and military principles that brought about the whole “industrial revolution” based on carbon combustion and consumption.

    And of course the Looters are happy to sell the rest of us on their notions of how we mopes can try to emulate their excesses, each in our own small way —outsize and wasteful dwellings if we can afford them, surrounded by monoculture pesticide-and-water-demanding “lawns and plantings, gasoline yard implements, automobiles “needed” to just gather manufactured food, all that stuff, all that stuff, so much that maybe half of us mopes have to rent or erect storage structures for it. All “financed,” so we are in the endless cycle of insupportable debt. The Chinese rulers are happy to the “demands” for all these “wants,” and those who read here know how the business elites are playing the game from within their supranational corporations that will likely kill off potentially effective regulating political units, whichever ones have not been suborned by corruption.

    It’s the Soylent Green model— just keep using everything up, including the remaining humans in that “Soylent Green” algae vat process, while the “executive rulers” live lives of such pleasure and comfort as the decimated planet can still provide to titillate their limbic pleasure systems.

    Maybe, somehow, mopes can learn a combination of deferred gratification, modification of their demands for all that “Stuff” they are Bernays’ed into “wanting,” and learning and inwardly believing that little ditty, “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, do without” that my grandparents taught my parents and me from their 20th Century Depression experiences. But that takes widespread acceptance and adherence to decency and comity and “moderation in all things.” And related ideation and behaviors, which are all anathema to the operative model of Growth Is Not Only Good But NECESSARY, to keep the machine spinning a few generations longer.

    I don’t see a lot of interest in trying to live sustainable lives, and one can hardly miss all the incentives and pressures to just keep doing the same things we have all done, until it kills most of us off.

    I knew a person years ago, who had the requisite skills and training but just lacked the techniques and tools, like CRSP-R and other types of assemblers and manipulators of organic, to do what that person thought was needed. Said person’s opinion was that humanity is a plague species that ought to be eradicated, and what was needed was a pathogen that was only but 100% deadly to humans, and that could be spread widely and quickly by all the various vectors and pathways, air- and water- and body-fluid-borne. I would bet that one or several of the military and industrial entities has developed variations on that, along with vaccines to protect their sorry a$$es, and all it takes is one really dedicated individual to say “I’m sick of what our species has done and is doing,” and turn the stuff loose.

  11. susan the other

    1-1631 is a giant step in the right direction because they have learned to use politics for their own ends. Instead of a tax they are offering a way to directly remedy the effects of pollution. The proceeds of the fee on pollution are dedicated to specific projects to protect the environment and the people suffering from the effects of industrialization. And in the process they naturally address, directly, those specific problems. Plus, they will probably create as many jobs as are lost to pollution control.

    1. kimyo

      The proceeds of the fee on pollution are dedicated to specific projects to protect the environment

      what specific projects? if washington state was flush with boatloads of cash today, what should they spend it on?

      carbon capture? smart/solar roads? railways (still primarily powered by fossil fuels)? redesigning their cities (lots of concrete required for that)?

  12. The Rev Kev

    We had carbon pricing for awhile in Australia () but you couldn’t call it a great success. It was introduced as strictly a top-down affair on ideological grounds which sounds like the case in Washington. I think that it lowered emissions by 9% – maybe – but at a cost of slowing down business and making people’s electricity bills shoot through the roof. Sorry, but this idea of punishment taxes for using carbon only means that the poorer people are hit hardest and I am not sure that poorer American can afford to pay for what sounds like a virtue-signalling exercise.
    Leonardo Di Caprio may be for it but last time I looked he was worth a quarter of a billion dollars and so could afford it. You want to reduce carbon? How about investing big time in public transport and have it that people can actually afford to use it. That would be a good start. As for the attempt to make this tax in Washington more ‘inclusive’ with ‘minorities’, I am sure that the words that they are looking for are ‘window-dressing’.

  13. Matthew G. Saroff

    Is it just me, or is all this jockeying primarily about who gets their vigorish?

    It sounds to me like the various participants in the process are looking for specific payouts for themselves more than creating a policy.

    FWIW, I support a carbon tax over cap and trade because:
    * It is cheaper to administer.
    * It does not create yet another subsidy to the banksters and their evil minions. (Carbon based securities anyone?

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