An initiative to fine carbon emissions is likely back to face state voters again for round two.
Initiative 1631—which the campaign said would implement a fee rather than a tax on carbon emissions, based on what the state does with the revenue—seems slated for the November general election after the campaign on Monday turned in the majority of over 375,000 collected signatures to the Secretary of State. A campaign needs 259,622 valid signatures to get on the ballot.
In the coming days the Secretary of State will verify randomly selected signatures. And if they check out, the initiative will be put on the November ballot for a second chance at a win, at a time when environmental activists say there's a lot at stake.
"We know (the federal administration is) trying to do everything they can to dismantle the long-established environmental protections that we even had on the books already," coalition spokesperson Nick Abraham told PubliCola. "We don't have time to wait. We know this is a really powerful first step that our state can take to show what's possible."
But a statewide vote could still be a tough battle for the campaign. The carbon tax initiative in 2016's general election failed with 59 percent of voters opposed to it; some critics argued that it punished more low-income rural communities whose economies more often relied on fossil fuels, while others pointed to its lack of outreach to communities of color, which are disproportionately impacted by pollution.
The measure follows failed attempts for environmentalists to lobby the state Legislature and governor Jay Inslee to pass similar policies. This initiative would impose a $15 fee per metric ton of carbon emissions on large emitters starting in January 2020; the fee would rise by $2 every year after that.
The biggest challenge for the coalition now will be battling negative perceptions of 2016's carbon tax initiative outside of Seattle, where residents vote more conservatively and remain skeptical about Seattle-led measures that increase regulations.
Having learned from its failure in 2016—back then it out-raised opponents by double, but still lost—the coalition this time has more than 200 organizations involved, including racial justice groups, health advocates, labor, and environmental activists from across the state, Abraham said.
The campaign now looks bound to raise well beyond its funding two years ago. Supporters have already raised $2.2 million and spent $990,000 of it, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Unlike the previous version, this initiative doesn't reduced the state sales tax as an attempt to make the measure revenue neutral; essentially, the swap meant that the state would lose money over time, when less fossil fuels emitted would mean less tax raised.
Another major difference: As a "pollution fee" and not a tax, I-1631 dedicates the revenue stream to specific solutions that would advance the state's carbon-neutral goal rather than used for the state's general transportation funding. The initiative directs 70 percent of the revenue toward clean energy investments, 25 percent toward clean water and forests, and 5 percent toward "healthy communities."
"So much of the initiative is about investing in natural resources, and we know that rural communities are a lot closer to those jobs, to that economy," Abraham said. "It's going to be a huge investment in those areas. They’ve needed it for a long time. So we feel really good about being able to make that case."
Updated 9:35am on Tuesday, July 3, to clarify that the campaign said the initiative is a fee rather than a tax and to correct a typo on the initiative number.