Will Washington State be the first to pass a carbon tax?

The most expensive ballot initiative in the history of Washington State will be decided today, and whether it succeeds or fails will have an enormous impact on the rest of the nation.

At issue is the country's first carbon tax.  Ballot Initiative 1631 would impose a $15-a-ton tax on carbon-emitters.  More than 400 community groups, social justice organizations, tribes, and local governments are backing the initiative, with fossil fuel companies and rural electric cooperatives opposing it.

The tax would increase $2 a ton every year until the state reaches its emissions goals.  Supporters say it would bring in $2.3 billion the first five years.  But as with many other issues in the state, there is a huge divide between the more liberal, urban areas and the rural conservative counties.  It is the rural parts of the state that will be slammed by the carbon tax.


"Nobody makes any money running cows.  It's just a way of life and that's the way it's always been," Creveling says.  His family may be land rich, but Creveling says everyone in the business is cash poor.  And that's where the climate change ballot initiative gets him.

Fossil fuel companies are free to pass the costs of the carbon fee on to customers.  According to an independent estimate, the carbon fee would increase gasoline prices by up to 14 cents per gallon per year.  Heating, electricity and natural gas prices would also rise.

And in eastern Washington, where winters are colder and people tend to drive more than in the Seattle area, Creveling believes it will put more rural people out of business – that the big corporations won't feel the pain.

"They don't ever hold the big people accountable," he said.  "They got enough money that they just get out of it, or they go someplace else."

"I think their idea was right; we need to do something to reduce carbon but this just isn't the way to do it," says Kent Lopez, executive director of the Washington Rural Electric Cooperative Association.  WRECA represents 15 utilities in rural Washington that serve roughly 75% of the state by land mass, but only 6% of the population.

Lopez says many of those customers need to drive longer distances, often in less fuel efficient vehicles, than urban residents of the state.  They also may make their living in agriculture which involves electricity to operate irrigation and fuel for farming equipment.

"If this didn't have a negative impact on their ratepayers they [WRECA utility companies] probably would not have voted to oppose it," Lopez says.  "But they looked at it and said, 'this is not good for our members.'"

A point of contention is the large number of industries and businesses that will be exempt from the tax.

Jet fuels are exempt, as are maritime fuels.  Fuels and electricity used by facilities that are defined as "Energy Intensive Trade Exposed," such as glass, steel, pulp and paper, aluminum, and chemical manufacturing are also exempt.  The millions of barrels of oil that are transported via train through Washington state to its coastal refineries would also be exempt from the fee.

Softening the blow somewhat is the huge amount of hydro-electric power generated in the state.  But according to this Carbon Tax Calculator from the Washington Policy Center, the average resident will pay more than $200 a year extra in energy taxes.  That's just in the first year of the tax.  It will rise every year by about 12%.

This is a horrible idea, and not just because there's no evidence that a reduction in carbon emissions in one state will have any measurable impact on a reduction in CO2 emissions nationwide.  In effect, this is a vanity tax.  It will make liberals in Washington feel good about themselves that they are "doing something" about global warming but have a zero effect on the nation as a whole.  The people of Washington are being asked to serve as a guinea pigs for a liberal experiment with little understanding of – and not much concern for – the economic impact the tax will have on ordinary people.

The U.S. leads all countries in reducing carbon emissions and we're doing it without idiotic environmentalist schemes like cap and trade or a carbon tax.  Residents in Washington should keep this in mind when voting on 1631.

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