The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy presented its new carbon tax initiative at a public forum beginning their statewide tour on Tuesday, June 20, at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship. The hope is to put the initiative on the 2018 ballot.
The proposed policy is a performance-based carbon tax that will increase over time if the state is unable to keep up with emission reduction obligations set by the policy.
The alliance describes itself as a coalition of individuals, organizations and businesses across Washington who advocate reducing climate-change causing pollution and strengthening the economy.
“We are talking about public investment, not relying on corporate investment anymore,” Steve Garey, panel member and former president of the local United Steelworkers union, said. “We’ve seen that and they’re doubling down on the fossil fuel industry.”
The alliance will be taking a tour across the state, stopping in 20 destinations to hold similar forums, Ahmed Gaya, a staff member at the alliance, said. The forums will be used to explain the policy and answer questions about it because of its complexity and the group’s need for citizen support, Gaya said.
“I definitely learned a lot,” junior Abigail Ernest-Beck said. “But it was a lot of information to process.”
Solutions through taxes
The alliance’s carbon tax differentiates itself from the carbon emissions tax that failed on the 2016 ballot by investing the tax revenue into the solutions to climate change, Gaya said.
“The current administration is working to undo all the Obama-era climate policies,” said Eddy Ury, a clean energy organizer at RE Sources who spoke on the panel. “This really leaves it up to the state and local level, where we are going to take up this burden.”
The alliance estimates the tax would bring in around $1.1 billion, which would be broken up into four investment funds. Sameer Ranade, a member of the Washington Environmental Council, said the first part, about $250 million, would be put toward a transition fund. The fund would be developed for heavily impacted and lower-income areas in Washington to transition to sustainable resources, he said.
“We need a just transition, not just a transition,” Ury said. “[We need] a fair and equitable transition to clean energy.”
The remaining $850 million from the tax revenue would be broken into three parts, Ranade said. Seventy percent would go to investment funds to promote the transition to a clean energy economy, which includes infrastructure overhaul, such as shifting transportation away from fossil fuel use. Twenty percent would go toward clean and abundant water and the last 10 percent would go towards promoting healthy forests that absorb carbon emissions, he said.
The tax would create accountability for those that pollute and harm the environment, and grow the state as a producer of sustainable resources, Ranade said. Two-thirds of every dollar put towards fossil fuels in Washington go toward out-of-state pockets, and the state would not lose money if the bill pushes out fossil fuels because Washington does not produce them, he said.
The alliance’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions to the levels of the 1990s by 2020, to reduce emissions 40 percent below that by the 2030s and to reduce emissions an additional 40 percent by 2050, Ranade said.
Led by the people
To get the policy on the ballot, the alliance will need to collect 350,000 signatures, Gaya said.
The alliance plans to gather 3,500 volunteers, who they call climate justice stewards, to help them gather the signatures. They also hope to expand that number to 10,000 in order to spread information about the policy directly to voters for the next ballot season, Gaya said.
The climate justice stewards will be tasked with collecting pledges, presenting on the alliance, asking community leaders to endorse the policy and organizing or leading events, Gaya said.
“I’ve been looking for a way to get involved,” Ernest-Beck, who pledged to be a climate justice steward, said. “I’m definitely looking forward to it in the future.”
The goal of an equitable solution
Edgar Franks is a member of Community to Community Development in Bellingham, a grassroots organization with the goal of social, economic and environmental justice, and was one of five speakers on the panel.
The alliance’s climate change policy will put communities disproportionately affected by climate change at the forefront of climate change solutions, Franks said. People of color, people with fixed incomes, people with no health insurance and farmers are some of these communities that are often in high-impact areas the alliance wants to give a voice to, he said.
“I think the alliance is one of those places that represents that and lets you be equitable with everybody,” Franks said.
The policy will only be able to work with the proper oversight, Garey said. If it passes, the policy will be run by a large, diverse committee picked by the governor, he said. To guarantee diversity, one-third of the seats will be given to high-impact areas across the state, he said.
To give incentive for companies to stay in-state if the tax goes into effect, companies that are taxed can apply to become Energy-Intensive, Trade-Exposed businesses. These businesses would be given tax exemptions, Rande said. Keeping companies in-state will decrease layoffs statewide and, in the case of large layoffs, the transition fund will support workers, impacted communities and the vulnerable industries, he said.