After Washington voters overwhelming rejected a carbon tax proposal under Initiative 1631 in November, Governor Jay Inslee is once more turning to the state legislature to approve another package of clean energy proposals.
At a Dec. 10 press conference flanked by key ranking state legislators, Inslee unveiled plans for 100 percent clean electricity from utilities, a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) and electrifying the state transportation system in order to meet goals set by the legislature in 2008 to reduce state greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035.
“This is not a future fantasy,” Inslee said. “This is a today reality in the state of Washington.”
Noticeably absent from the list of proposals is a tax or fee based on carbon emissions, though when asked about it during the press conference, he told reporters: “we’re not giving up on anything. I’m not ruling out anything else in the next decade or so.”
He added that “the people decided not to embrace Plan A (I-1631), but there’s about 400 other plans behind that ready to go.”
The pivot away from carbon tax proposals might also be an acknowledgement that despite apparent support among Washingtonians for legislative action related to climate change, that political support doesn’t extend to putting a price on carbon. In a recent interview with Politico, climate activist Kalee Kreider said that “this aversion to taxes in the U.S. is high and should not be underestimated,” despite recent success in states such as California.
While a gas tax increase meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in France ostensibly sparked the recent yellow vest protests, Inslee told reporters at the press conference he expects the new proposals to “engender tremendous support in Washington state.” According to Climate Solutions, a Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates poll of 1,216 Washington voters in early November found 64 percent of respondents supported “action to reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change,” though University of Washington Professor Cliff Mass recently noted many “climate-concerned folks” voted against I-1631 because they “were uncomfortable with aspects of the policy.”
Many of the new proposals such as a low-carbon fuel standard and stronger greenhouse reduction goals have been introduced in prior legislative sessions but lacked the support needed to clear both chambers. However, the recent election resulted in a significant shift from an evenly-divided state House and Senate to solid Democrat majorities.
If approved by the legislature, Inslee’s proposal would do the following:
- Require all 63 utilities in Washington generate carbon-free electricity by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2045;
- Gradually eliminate the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a compound used in products such as refrigerators and air conditioners;
- Mandate that fuel companies reduce carbon-intensity in their fuels 10 percent by 2028, and 20 percent by 2035;
- Transition Washington’s public transportation fleet of vehicles and ferries from fuel to electricity; and
- Increase efficiency in remodeling and construction.
A likely debate over these measures next year is how much they’ll affect state residents in the form of higher energy prices or products due to increased transportation costs. The Association of Washington Business (AWB) advocates that “cost impacts resulting from carbon regulation should be transparent at the point of sale to end-use consumers.”
When asked about the costs at the press conference, Inslee replied that “the choice is between inaction and action. The costs of inaction are enormous.”
The LCFS aims to reduce pollution from Washington’s transportation sector, which composes half of all emissions. Aside from costs, a LCFS might also encounter resistance due to disagreement over its effectiveness in helping Washington reach the state’s 2008 emission standards. In 2014, it was left off a list of recommended actions in a state climate workgroup report.
Meanwhile, the state is struggling to meet environmental goals already articulated in Inslee’s Results Washington. That includes a benchmark to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions from 44.9 million metric tons annually to 37.5 million metric tons by 2020. The last progress report from July 2017 showed the state was not on track to meet it, nor was it on track to reduce the average emissions of greenhouse gases for each vehicle mile traveled in Washington by 25 percent in 2020, nor increase the number of plug-in electric vehicles in Washington from 8,000 in 2013 to 50,000 by 2020.
While Inslee argued that the new package if implemented would reduce greenhouse gases by 16 million metric tons, others have highlighted Washington’s already-low carbon levels that make up 1.4 percent of total U.S. emissions and .021 percent of total global emissions.
A climate model created through Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funds estimates that if Washington were to reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2100, it would have a global temperature effect of .0002 percent.