This op-ed piece was written by Carbon Washington co-chair Joe Ryan and published in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on Monday, Feb. 22.
The 2015 wildfire season was the worst on record in Washington. Wildfires burned at least 300 homes, more than one million acres and caused $340 million in damages across the state. Three Twisp firefighters were killed and another was severely injured. Further, 2015 was another catastrophic drought emergency year, severely impacting irrigated agriculture and our quality of life. Unless something is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, years like 2015 will become the “new normal.”
Economists agree the best way to reduce harmful fossil fuel emissions is to put a solid price on carbon. Initiative 732 taxes carbon dioxide emissions and uses the revenue to reduce the sales tax and taxes on manufacturers. It also funds a tax credit for low-income working families. It does not impose mandates, grow government or increase bureaucracy. Instead, it relies on free market forces to encourage each of us to reduce our carbon footprint.
Rural counties in Washington state tend to have the lowest per capita income. Of the 39 counties in Washington state, the seven with the lowest per capita incomes are Adams, Ferry, Franklin, Grant, Okanogan, Whitman and Yakima. Low-wage Washingtonians pay as much as seven times more of their income in state and local taxes as do their wealthy neighbors. By funding Washington’s Working Families Tax Rebate, Initiative 732 will be the most progressive change in our state tax code since the sales tax was removed from food purchases in 1977. This not only benefits 400,000 families across the state, but it also helps support the local economy.
It has also been suggested that Initiative 732 is bad for rural communities because it will increase the cost of gasoline for people who need to drive more. In fact, a recent study in western Oregon concluded there is no significant difference between the vehicle miles traveled by urban and rural residents. This is because rural residents tend to consolidate their trips more. However, global climate disruption knows no urban/rural divide; it affects us all.
To better understand how Initiative 732 impacts families and businesses, we created a carbon tax calculator in partnership with the University of Washington. We encourage readers to see for themselves how Initiative 732 will affect them by visiting http://carbon.cs.washington.edu. We estimate that an average family will save a few hundred dollars a year in reduced sales taxes and pay a few hundred dollars a year more in carbon taxes. Many working families in the bottom 20 percent (by income) will pay less than half the taxes they do now.
Initiative 732 accelerates the switch to affordable, clean energy sources like the sun and wind — energy we produce right here in our local communities. This measure will create thousands of good, local jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new economic activity in building and deploying clean energy. Initiative 732 is our best chance at making meaningful progress toward carbon reduction in Washington state, while sustaining economic growth and easing the tax burden for families.
Each of us has a moral responsibility to protect our children and future generations, leaving them a cleaner, healthier and safer world. A groundswell of citizen support has put Initiative 732 in front of the state Legislature. It demonstrates what a pro-business and pro-environment approach to climate change can accomplish. But we must work together and we must act now. Initiative 732 is a great first step toward preventing an unacceptable “new normal.”
Let’s not allow this legislative session go by without taking action on climate change. Please get involved. Call or write your legislator and ask them to say yes on I-732.
Joe Ryan is a longtime leader in Washington’s environmental movement and is co-chair of Carbon Washington/Yes on I-732.