Campaign News

Hello carbon tax friends: Our vision in this campaign is to find common ground that can bring the left and the right together on a revenue-neutral carbon tax that would improve the environment and the economy in Washington State. We are still firmly committed to that vision, but it has become clear to us that we will not be able to put this on the ballot in November 2014, so we have decided to step back from that target and re-evaluate.

In the weeks ahead we will provide more information and more details on next steps, but for now we want to let you know and to thank you for all of your support. We wish we had better news to share, but we will be back, and we hope you’ll still be there with us.

Comments and questions are welcome below as part of this (moderated) blog post.

Regards,
The CarbonWA Steering Committee

Comments ( 29 )

  • Dave Kozin says:

    It’d be great to see some of the revenue be allocated toward the deployment of more renewables! (for both selfish and environmental reasons). Regardless, I’m looking forward to seeing a bi-partisan revenue neutral carbon tax emerge in WA one of these days, keep up the good fight.

    • Yoram Bauman says:

      Thanks Dave, and you’re definitely not the only one pushing for more support for renewables. The challenge is that that bumps up pretty closely against the desire to be revenue-neutral…

  • Alan Ness says:

    I was really looking forward to getting those 1000 signatures! Everyone I spoke with says that a carbon tax is the fundamental change that is needed to help slow climate change. Standing by for the next act.

  • Betty Merten says:

    I am really sad to hear this. Could you tell us why?

    • Yoram Bauman says:

      Hi Betty: I can share with you my own personal view, which is that it was a combination of the challenges facing 2014 (most worrisome to me personally were some unexpected complications with our legal language about imported electricity and about B&O tax reductions, and the interactions between these complications and policy details about revenue-neutrality) and some promising opportunities for waiting in terms of building our strength &c. Sorry to be vague about the latter, but hopefully we’ll be able to share more soon!

      • Betty Merten says:

        We can use the delay to educate the GOP and business interests about Republican support for a carbon tax (e.g., George Schultz, Greg Mankiw, and economists Laffer et al).

        • George Reynoldson says:

          The GOP is best educated from the bottom up. Top down support via the likes of Shultz-Laffer-Mankiw (s) of mainstream GOP economics is unlikely to produce politicians who can claim that “the American people have spoken”, a necessary prerequisite for election campaigns. At least this is how ’60s activists seemed to drive radical paradigm shifts in US political consciousness on race, conscription, gender and environmental issues. For this reason maybe CarbonWA volunteers and signature gatherers could have promoted a new way of Washington energy thinking: economic decarbonization!”.

          Time’s a’wasting!

  • Jim Lazar says:

    We must not lose this momentum that Yoram and his colleagues have created. 2014 would be a bad year for this, in my opinion, but the time will come, and all the work that’s gone into drafting an initiative and polling will not be wasted.

  • Greg Iverson says:

    I am glad you are doing a rethink.

    The proposed tax had several flaws the chief one being I do not believe most voters would buy into the idea of a permanent reduction in the general sales tax. I also think the proposed tax is too complex which is another reason it would rejected. I suggest the tax could achieve the revenue neutral goal by simply returning all the tax revenues in equal shares to all the adult citizens and let them determine how to spend it.

    I suggest you further simply the tax by deleting the tax breaks for business. The purpose of a carbon tax is to force us to stop using hydrocarbon fuels and replace them with carbon-free renewable energy. Businesses will have to adjust to renewable energy like everyone else. There is going to be a lot of resistance to making such a radical change. But change we must if we are going to help preserve a livable future.

    Please forgive my ignorance but does the proposed tax apply to hydrocarbon fuels transported through the state? Perhaps that can only be addressed with national legislation.

    • Ken says:

      Greg’s comments provide a template for drafting carbon tax legislation that could be approved by the voters. Greg’s vision of ruthless simplicity is the key.

  • Rob Briggs says:

    I am really saddened by this decision. For anyone who believes we have time to lose, I recommend James Hansen’s summary of his recent paper “Assessing Dangerous Climate Change: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature” here: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2013/20131202_PopularSciencePlosOneE.pdf or better the full paper here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0081648.

    For anyone eager to advance the cause of a revenue-neutral carbon tax in the mean while, check out Citizen’s Climate Lobby (http://citizensclimatelobby.org/), a dynamic, young rapidly-growing organization with goals similar to CarbonWA’s.

  • George Reynoldson says:

    It feel VERY sad to see this effort again come to such an abrupt halt. Perhaps this proposal was too complicated to seem coherent to voters and/or doable to volunteers at this time but I hope CarbonWA finds a new life again at the appropriate time.

    Somehow we all have to get the message that unconstrained carbon burning is both morally insane and and technically unnecessary. Putting this proposal OUT THERE to be considered would have been at least a start in raising voter awareness to this end even if it was not to be approved in Nov ’14. It also displayed public moral courage that other bureaucratic incentives efforts do not.

    I hope more reasons for this initiative’s failure will be forthcoming soon… regardless, thanks for trying Yoram. May the next steering committee find a real workable decarbonized Washington State highway.

  • Wy says:

    As someone on the more conservative side of things, we were considering NOT supporting this. The biggest reason was the amounts of missing complexity and details on the revenue generation side, and the excessive social goals on the spending side.

    I’d suggest purely going from carbon tax to sales tax percentage reduction, and reducing impact by means of a graduated phase in period vice complicating the code by targeted breaks.

    Additionally, to avoid interstate commerce complications and building opponents, on the revenue generation side, it might be best to start off with just electricity generation vice motor vehicle fuels. Washington states does refine some fuel for export, and there are several projects in the pipeline that I am aware of that will be processing shale derived crude for such purposes. Affecting those may very well cause much more in the way of opponents for a proposed measure.

  • Jenni Doering says:

    When I first saw this message my instant reaction was “Oh no!”, because as Bill McKibben writes in his book Eaarth, we really don’t have time to spare on this issue. On reflection, however, I realize that politics does take time — time for building the organization, time for getting the word out, time to collect the small miracles that ultimately become essential to a campaign’s success. Shoring up the campaign as much as possible before a final push for signatures and then for achieving a “yes” vote on the ballot will pay off in the long run. Whether I will be in Washington after I graduate this spring or outside the state, I will be rooting on the campaign and helping in the ways that I can. Thanks for all of your hard work so far, and keep it up! A shout-out to my good friend Claire Meints for her awesome dedication to this campaign and her persistence in getting the word out about it on the Whitman campus and in Walla Walla.

  • Louise Stonington says:

    Citizens Climate Lobby has excellent materials to support volunteers in working toward a carbon fee and dividend. Our focus is on a national tax, but the talking points and procedures apply to a state tax as well. It uses group empowerment to support a successful change in awareness and political will.
    Chapters meet monthly, hear expert info in conference calls, and plan educational efforts. Carbon Washington volunteers, please check out the website, citizensclimatelobby.org Listen to an intro call, hear past conference calls, and consider joining or forming a chapter. Let’s keep the momentum going.
    My suggestions for carbonWA now:
    First, keep collecting names and contact info for people supporting a carbon tax and willing to get a monthly update. Use those updates to pass out talking points. Announce the number of names as the master list grows, and use it for telephone town halls and rallies.
    Collect organizational endorsements for a carbon tax, from the many non-profit organizations in Washington that work to combat climate change, and with
    businesses and business alliances focused on efficiency and clean energy, and
    religious, social, and professional organizations with civic interest,
    academic institutions
    and governments.
    Establish citizen groups across the state that meet regularly and present speakers and other educational events (coordinate w. CCL)
    Help local media access and present accurate and more information on climate science and solutions.
    Support other efforts: divestment, expansion of investment in efficiency and clean energy, and resistance to transport of fossil fuels.
    Of course we also will be monitoring action from Olympia.
    Louise Stonington
    lstoning@msn.com

  • Steve says:

    I’m sorry to see this, too, but I’m sure there’re good reasons for it.

    I’m going to go ahead with my plan to table at the WA Democrats’ state-wide meeting in Vancouver on Feb 1. The meeting will be mostly involved with electing a new chair, but I’m still considering bringing a resolution by which the party can endorse both carbon tax and cap-and-trade, and urge urgency.

    If anyone is in the Vancouver area or planning to go to the meeting, let me know if you’d like to help/meet.

  • Bart Preecs says:

    Well, like others I am disappointed but also a little relieved. Tax initiatives in WA state have a long and painful history, and I wasn’t looking forward to putting this on a ballot in an-off year election.

    There seemed to be the possibility of a serious side effect of galvanizing low-attention voters, to come to the polls to vote against anything that has “tax” in the title and then vote for some seriously awful candidates at the same time.

    I don’t have any magic bullets to make the next step easier but I agree with Jim and Louise above that there’s lots to do to preserve what momentum we have.

    Looking forward to learning more when the time’s right.

  • James Williams says:

    I’m also saddened by this turn of events, but recognize the challenges we’re facing. I hope we can keep our momentum and look forward to developing a winning strategy.

    May I suggest two changes in strategy.

    1. Drop the “revenue neutral” strategy. Use revenue from a carbon tax to invest in and develop zero (or near zero) carbon emitting energy sources.
    Voters do have a record of supporting taxes if the revenue is used to support popular causes. Promote the tax as a “sin” tax.

    2. Drop the idea of applying the tax to electricity imported from carbon emitting generating stations. Other methods can be used to deal with that (carbon divestment campaigns and encouraging initiative or legislative action in states that have those generating stations.)

    This would simplify the initiative and remove some of the legal issues.
    Thank you Yoram, the steering committee and all those who are working hard on this issue!

    • Bob Hallahan says:

      I really think the campaign needs to remain carbon-neutral, with most, of not all, of the money going back to the people. Aiming higher than that (ie using carbon tax revenue to fund alternative energy research or carbon sequestration) would be good but it a step too far for now.

  • Maralyn Chase says:

    Delaying the initiative drive and the vote is a well-considered decision. Progressive voters tend to vote in presidential elections more than in off-year elections. This delay gives us more time to ” plough the ground “– identify supporters and build a voting machine — which will focus on turning out the voters.

    We can win on this issue but it takes grass roots work. Good job so far, my friends. Onward!

  • James Adcock says:

    I believe you will get more support if you become more pragmatic and less “pure” in your approach — do what can actually [perhaps] be accomplished. I do not believe you can get a tax high-enough to seriously change car-driving behavior, but yet another tax on gas will kill your voter support. However most voters can understand that much of our CO2 pollution comes from a small subset of electricity utilities in Washington State — most utilities are [somewhat] doing their part, but a small subset of utilities are “free riding.” So I agree, I would at this point simply put a fee on the CO2 emissions from electricity, and rebate that fee via the sales tax. KISS. I believe a minority of citizens in the high-emitter utility regions would oppose — but everyone else would support. When Puget Sound Energy surveyed their own customers some years ago 80% of customers put clean electricity as a priority. In fact most WA citizens still believe our electricity is all coming from hydro. Point out, for example, on how high PSE’s emissions are — and how quickly those emissions are rising — to almost 50% above 1990 levels — and I think most citizens of WA will be outraged.

    • Jim Lazar says:

      The concentration of carbon emissions among a few utilities is NOT because the others are “doing their part” to reduce carbon emissions. It is because federal law allocates the federal hydropower to a select group of (public body and cooperative) utilities.

      Lewis PUD is not a “champion” of clean energy; it is the beneficiary of a specific federal law. Seattle City Light is, perhaps, a little more intentional in its energy portfolio, but most of the public power and cooperative utilities simply suck on the BPA tit, and then claim their are using clean hydropower. When it’s really fish-killing hydropower.

      I disagree with Jim: we need to address all electricity, and assume that if it’s birthplace cannot be documented, that it’s coal in origin. There is too much power trading throughout the West to assume otherwise. BC Hydro buys (coal) from Alberta, and sells (hydro) to California. BPA buys from Centralia at night, and shuts down hydro, saving it for higher-value hours during the day (when it exports to California).

      But, I agree we should drop the revenue neutral game. My personal preference is to devote 100% of the proceeds to higher education, split between the state universities, state colleges, and community colleges in a manner to provide a tangible reduction in tuition and a tangible increase in overall funding. We have enough employees and students in higher education to put an initiative on the ballot, and run a great campaign. Give them a self-interest, that happens to be a well-documented public interest.

  • Mike Eddy says:

    James Adcock et al, I agree that we need to keep it simple and educate. Here are some facts to consider:
    1. Emission sources. In 2012 just shy of 1/3 of US CO2 emissions came from Coal to produce electricity. This is a little less than emissions from petroleum based non-industrial transportation (see a great educational graphic at https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/carbon/carbon_emissions_2012/2012_US_Carbon.png). The story is worse in WA because we use so much hydro to produce electricity. In 2008 (latest data I could find) over HALF of our emissions came from petroleum based transportation (https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/carbon/carbon_emissions_2008/2008StateCarbon.pdf). We need to address BOTH transportation and electricity generation.
    2. Gas taxes. For some reason in this country people only view taxes as a liability so we are not able to levy some taxes as percentages. The earliest data I could find for the gas tax is in 1949 when it was 6.5 cents on 26.8 c/gal gas. That’s 24%. It peaked in 1967 at 27%, declined to 10% in the Reagan years, peaked again at 20% around Gulf War 1, and has generally declined to ~11% today (http://dor.wa.gov/docs/reports/2010/Tax_Reference_2010/06taxhistory.pdf and http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/showtext.cfm?t=ptb0524).
    All the energy we could possibly need shines down on us every day, even in Seattle during the winter solstice. We need to STOP extracting stored carbon from the earth to redistribute as air, soil, and water pollution and START harnessing all the energy we could ever need from the sun. The way to do that is to internalize ALL the costs of carbon with a tax to even the playing field for renewables. The fossil fuel industry is one of just a few that gets to externalize the majority of its costs. We need to figure out the politics for the sake of our futures and those of our children.

  • Louise Stonington says:

    So many people have been energized by Carbon Washington! Thank you to Yoram Bauman and other people working on it.
    2014 is the year of the horse, and in particular the wood horse, strong and stable, energetic, friendly and successful.
    As we end the year of the snake, we see that we do not have to suffer random failures; if can count our resources, and use them thoughtfully, we can plan for long lasting happiness. The cleanliness of the air and water are essential to life. Pollution wastes our efforts and our assets.
    In this year of the horse, we should celebrate our good fortune and turn it into long-term benefits for all. This is a time to face our selfish desires and wasteful practices. We can use energy more efficiently. We can invest in clean energy to reduce economic losses from pollution, and find greater profits.
    We can change old habits that are risking the stability of our natural systems and our economy.
    This is a time for people to call on their strength and stamina, the energy and vitality of the horse, to help them influence others. This is a year to be cheerful, friendly and vocal, and to call on other people to work with us toward a vibrant, new green energy economy.

  • James Adcock says:

    To All: I am not disagreeing about what you, or for that matter I, would like to get done. I am merely suggesting that if you reach for the unobtainable, then you *will* fail — by definition. I am suggesting instead the following question: “What can CarbonWA have a reasonable hope of actually getting passed?” I suggest that which can be passed in today’s post-crash fearful voter environment is a pretty low bar: 1) Rebate 100% back directly to voters to that no one can make the argument that this is a “tax” and not a penalty on the worst polluters. 2) Penalize those who most *Washingtonians* would agree are the worst offenders, namely the highest emitting electrical utilities. If you can get a carbon tax on something, and that carbon tax is high-enough to be meaningful — meaning more that $25 / ton CO2, and hopefully closer to the $45-50 / ton CO2 EPA is already estimating (and real climate scientists are saying we are currently at $100 / ton CO2) — then maybe you have something we can build on in the future. I don’t disagree with Lazar that utilities are playing a shell game pushing the CO2 emissions assignments around to always the least-regulated state or province. Its just that when enough states and provinces see that that shell game is getting shut down, then they too will want to impose CO2 fees or taxes lest they get stuck with the CO2 clawback risks. And to do as Lazar does and lump a Seattle City Light or a Snopud in with PSE and say “well really all utilities are the same” is grossly unfair. Not true, on many levels some utilities are truly horrific compared to the other utilities. While not perfect Seattle had support from 100% of its IRP participants, whereas PSE had 100% *lack* of support from its IRP participants.

  • Pat Keegan says:

    I applaud the effort to establish a carbon tax but increasing the cost of carbon is no panacea. We know from decades of experience that most consumers will pay more for energy while ignoring the opportunity to invest in more efficient energy use. For a carbon tax to be effective it will need to be accompanied by a major effort to remove other barriers to efficiency and renewable energy.

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