An interview with Carbon Washington, a local carbon tax initiative

For today’s article Cleantechies and I are willing to shed some light on an interesting initiative that comes from Seattle. Carbon Washington is a local revenue-neutral carbon tax campaign. I interviewed their team.

This interview takes place as carbon taxes are all the buzz lately as they are more and more used globally. Many a large nation such as Japan, France, the UK or Mexico have adopted one. And many more nations will tax carbon soon such as China or South Africa will in 2016.

Washington State is currently experiencing a lot of climate / energy headlines. The biggest news are most certainly the kayaktivists who are trying to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic as well as the statewide drought emergency. Do you think that people are ready to counter all this with a carbon tax?

Washington is in the midst of a drought and we are experiencing record-low snowpack levels. Rising ocean acidification levels are threatening our shellfish industry, and Washington may face one of the worst forest fire seasons in recent history. Washingtonians are ready to act on climate and our campaign seeks to implement effective climate policy.

One of the main points is that it is a revenue neutral initiative. Can you tell our readers more about your initiative?

That’s right, our policy is designed to be revenue-neutral. This works by levying a tax of $25 per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted. In exchange, the state’s sales tax would decrease by one full percentage point, a tax on manufactures would be eliminated, and a (currently unfunded) low-income tax credit for working families would be fully funded.

When would it be implemented?

Since the initiative will be on the 2016 ballot, if passed, a price on carbon would begin July 1st, 2017.

By how much would it cut emissions in the State of Washington?

The free market aspects of a revenue-neutral carbon tax makes it difficult to predict the exact number of reduced emissions within a year, two years, five, etc. This EIA article goes into great detail about the economic responsiveness of a carbon tax. The “simple” summary of the report indicate that the electricity sector is very responsive to imposed CO2 fees, coal production decreases fairly dramatically while generation of renewable energy increases. Since the policy is market-based, it’s up to the market to decide how many emissions to cut, and a $25 imposed fee is meant to incentivize emissions reduction.

Our neighbors to the north, British Columbia, implemented a very similar carbon policy as we’re hoping to, so we’ve looked at their emissions data in order to forecast what may happen in Washington. Reports have shown that the sale of petroleum and motor fuel declined by nearly 15% within the first four years of implementation. There’s agreement among various reports that the decline in petroleum consumption has contributed to a decrease in emissions since 2008 (when BC’s carbon tax was implemented), especially when compared to the rest of Canada.

The University of Washington recently divested from coal. How is the momentum building for you?

One of the most exciting things about Carbon Washington is that we’re promoting a sensible, solutions-based policy. We have a specific policy that will combat the effects of climate change, and people have responded incredibly positive to it. Endorsements from local politicians and businesses, volunteers telling their “tales from the trail” – it’s clear people are excited that there’s a group who is acting on climate. Washington has been at the forefront of climate policy, and we want to remain a state that champions climate change.

What are your supports ? How can people from both Washington State and outside help you ?

We’re a bipartisan organization – we have both progressive and conservative support. Our policy seems to resonate with everyone in a different way. We’ve been hitting our signatures and fundraising goals with the help of a large volunteer network and mostly smaller contributions. If you can’t sign the initiative, consider helping CarbonWA gather signatures by making a contribution to the campaign. We always need help getting the word out about what we’re doing by sharing our campaign updates on social media.

To conclude this interview, do you think the adoption of such a tax in Washington State would help the United States enact a country-wide carbon tax ?

Absolutely. There are quite a few organizations in around the nation that are looking to put a price on carbon in their own state via a carbon tax: Oregon, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island to name a few. There’s a true demand among the people to put a price on carbon, and federal politicians are beginning to take note. If states begin to put a state price on carbon, we would hope those in Congress would take notice and put a federal price on carbon.

Image credits : Flickr, Nicole June.

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