Initiative 1631, a measure that would have created a carbon fee for fossil fuel emitters, looks likely to fail with 56.3 percent of statewide voters opposed to it in the first ballot count Tuesday night.
Had the initiative passed, Washington would have been the first state to enact a fine on carbon emissions.
Campaign director Abigail Doerr and other coalition members said they would continue to fight big polluters no matter the ultimate result of the election.
"We have a responsibility to continue this fight, to pass on a healthier future for the next generation," Doerr said.
The initiative would have charged companies $15 per metric ton of carbon emissions starting in January 2020, with rates increasing by $2 each year after that. The state would have raised $2.3 billion in the initiative’s first five years.
But the I-1631 campaign had heavy opposition, mainly from the petroleum industry, which raised over $31.6 million against it. Supporters raised about half that amount for the initiative.
"The reality is, we were outspent two to one by an industry that lied and misled the public," Doerr told PubliCola.
I-1631 was intentionally written to be interpreted as a fee rather than a tax, meaning collected revenue would go to a special fund to be used to reduce carbon emissions.
That made the difference for some who opposed the earlier initiative but supported this year's—like I-1631 campaign volunteers Lyn Shrahm and Ashok Chandwamey, who said they believed it was more responsible to use the funding to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"I think that for us to do something meaningful about global warming, we need to invest in creating a society that is sustainable," Chandwamey said.
It wasn't enough to convince voters statewide. I-1631 faced an uphill battle from earlier attempts to pass similar measures. Voters shot down a carbon tax initiative in 2016 with 59 percent opposed to it, and many still held negative perceptions from the similar measure on November's ballot.
"[Oil companies] spent more money than they ever had in the history of Washington state elections, and they were afraid of us," Doerr said. "And we're not giving up. I think they're going to be sorely disappointed if they think we'll lose and go away."