Washington governor proposes new carbon tax

Washington governor proposes new carbon tax
© File Photo

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) used his State of the State address Tuesday to propose a new tax on carbon emissions, which would make his state the first to levy taxes on commercial and industrial polluters.

Inslee’s plan would tax oil and gas emissions, and emissions by power plants, at a rate of $20 per metric ton beginning in mid-2019. The tax rate would increase annually by 3.5 percent.

“Now is the time to join in action and put a price on carbon pollution,” Inslee told legislators. “Doing so will allow us to reinvest in all the things that drive down emissions.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The tax would generate an estimated $1.5 billion in new revenues over the first two years, and $3.3 billion over the first four years, Inslee's office said. Some of those costs would be borne by consumers in the form of higher electricity, natural gas and gasoline prices.

Republicans in the state legislature were skeptical of what they said would be a tax on Washington families. In a statement released after Inslee unveiled a preliminary budget plan last month, state Senate Republican leader Mark Schoesler called the plan “an energy tax.”

Inslee has long been an advocate of stricter environmental regulations, and he has warned for years about the dangers of climate change. When he served in Congress, Inslee authored a book, "Apollo’s Fire," touting the prospects of a clean energy economy.

In an interview with The Hill last year in his Olympia office, Inslee said the incoming Trump administration's refusal to address climate change would spur action by liberal states to make changes of their own.

“We intend to continue on our state efforts to fight carbon pollution, and we will continue that undaunted and undiminished and undelayed because we have our own efforts that we're undergoing up and down the West Coast,” Inslee said in that interview. “We will remain masters of our own destiny when it comes to carbon, and if anything it's a rationale for speeding up our efforts due to the fact that we can't depend on the White House or Congress.”

But his plan faces steep political hurdles. Democrats control the state Senate and the state House by slim margins, and few Republicans have shown an interest in backing a new tax. 

A ballot initiative in 2016 that would have established a carbon tax of $25 per metric ton failed by a wide margin; it won majority support in only one of Washington's 39 counties — liberal King County, home of Seattle.

Other Democratic-led states have contemplated their own carbon taxes. California created a cap-and-trade program that auctions carbon allowances, similar to an agreement among Northeastern states known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Oregon’s legislature set up a study committee that eventually recommended a mostly revenue-neutral carbon tax.

Inslee's plan would reinvest money raised from the carbon tax in clean energy programs and natural resource development. On Tuesday, climate change activists including former Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreAl Gore: 'This experiment with Trumpism is not going well' Protecting democracy requires action from all of us Poll: Democrat Bredesen leads GOP's Blackburn by 5 points in Tennessee Senate race MORE and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg tweeted support for the proposal.