Washington already low-carbon leader, without new I-1631 energy tax

Coin and magnifying glass
Essentially a tax on energy, I-1631 would immediately increase the cost of fuel by 12-14 cents per gallon – on top of the current 49.4-cent gas tax, the second highest in the nation – and raise the cost of energy and consumer goods. Photo: Created by FreePik

Washington employers, employees and residents share the goal of reducing carbon emissions, as evidenced by state’s low carbon footprint.

Despite a 43 percent growth in population since 1990 — and 260 percent economic growth — Washington’s residents and employers have implemented solutions that have lowered carbon emissions by 18 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This leadership didn’t happen by accident. It was built through thoughtful and deliberate collaboration in every business sector and homes across the state that has preserved Washington’s beauty and environmental health through the generations.

It’s this kind of thoughtful collaboration that is needed to build on the successful efforts, not the new energy tax proposed in Initiative 1631.

If approved, I-1631 would establish a new, escalating “fee” on carbon emissions starting at $15 per metric ton, increasing annually by $2 per ton plus inflation.

Essentially a tax on energy, I-1631 would immediately increase the cost of fuel by 12-14 cents per gallon – on top of the current 49.4-cent gas tax, the second highest in the nation – and raise the cost of energy and consumer goods. Families and small businesses will be particularly impacted when it costs more to get to work, buy groceries and pay for electricity.

The state Office of Financial Management estimates I-1631 will generate $2.3 billion over five years from the new carbon fee, dollars that would be taken from hard-working men and women and put in the hands of a new, unelected, 15-member board that would determine how to spend the money. Those dollars would be spent without legislative oversight and without any guarantee the expenditures will result in any meaningful reduction of carbon emissions.

Importantly, the initiative will also cause the elimination of good-paying hands-on jobs for workers who make their living in the trades. As proof, I-1631 authors included a provision to pay for worker retraining as jobs, such as those in the manufacturing and energy sectors, disappear due to the new fee.

What will those high-wage jobs be replaced with? No one knows, and that should concern us all. I-1631 would create a system that treats some workers well —along with those who can afford the higher fuel and energy costs —while unfairly taking away jobs and negatively impacting family budgets for others.

This will only serve to grow the economic disparity we’re grappling with today in cities and towns across the state, all with no measurable goals or accountability to reduce carbon emissions.

Our state’s employer community and residents continue to play a key role in the ongoing innovation and personal changes to lower energy consumption, reduce carbon emissions and spearhead environmental efforts in their communities.

We have all worked hard to be thoughtful environmental stewards. It’s a point of pride for workers and employers across the state. The many proactive steps taken by businesses and by consumers are taking place without the need for the new carbon “fee” proposed in I-1631.

Washington state is leading the way on carbon reduction and environmental protection. It’s a legacy we should celebrate and one we know employers, workers and families are happily building on through innovation and strategic partnerships within their communities.

I-1631 is simply the wrong approach. We can and should continue looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions — without driving up costs for families and small businesses through an initiative that offers no assurances it will produce meaningful results.

Mark Riker is the executive secretary of the Washington Building Trades Council, which coordinates efforts of local unions intermediate bodies, and local Building and Construction Trades Councils that represent workers in the building and construction trades. Kris Johnson is the president of the Association of Washington Business, the largest and oldest business association in the state representing nearly 7,000 employers and 750,000 employees.

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