By Yoram Bauman and Joe Ryan
Climate action continues to prove elusive in the Washington state Legislature, so all eyes now turn to Initiative 1631, the “carbon fee” ballot measure filed last month by Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy.
The herculean task in front of the group is one we are quite familiar with: We were co-chairs of the Carbon Washington, Initiative 732 campaign, the first-ever carbon tax ballot measure effort in the United States.
We are writing not to re-litigate I-732 — which lost, in 2016, in part because many members of the Alliance opposed our centrist approach — but rather to survey the path ahead and to make sure that climate activists who wish to support I-1631 and its “unite the left” approach do so with eyes open. (Full disclosure: Although we support Carbon Washington, we are no longer on the board and our opinions are our own.)
The Alliance’s most immediate challenges are getting on the ballot and then winning in November. The good news is that I-1631 was designed to have voter-friendly ballot language: it’s called a “pollution fee” rather than a “carbon tax,” and the revenue is allocated to programs that poll well, like promoting clean energy. The bad news is that it will attract opposition from anti-tax groups, well-funded opponents in the energy industry, and voters fed up with recent increases in property taxes, sales taxes and car tabs.
Succeeding as policy also means addressing the pocketbook impacts of the initiative, especially for low-income households who will be paying more for gasoline and utilities. (Calling it a “fee” rather than a “tax” doesn’t make it any less regressive.) The way I-1631 seeks to alleviate this financial burden is with big-government programs. There’s no other way to describe it, and there’s also not much evidence that these programs work terribly well.
A recent study in Michigan, co-authored by Obama administration economist Michael Greenstone, found that the federal Weatherization Assistance Program reduced energy consumption by less than one-third of what models projected. It was even hard to get households to sign up, with “encouragement” spending of $1,000 per household needed to boost the participation rate to a paltry 6 percent.
Continue reading at The Seattle Times…