April 17, 2018

The Carbon Fee Initiative (1631) Has Major Problems: Let's Try Something Better

This fall, voters in Washington State will consider an initiative (1631) that, if passed, would put a fee on carbon and use the funds to "reduce pollution, promote renewable energy, and address climate change impacts."  Superficially it sounds good, but underneath the hood there are very serious problems.

In this blog, I will analyze Initiative 1631, note some its major deficiencies, and suggest a far better approach (a revenue-neutral carbon tax that would improve Washington's regressive tax structure).

As I described in my previous blog, I am a strong believer in carbon taxes and was an enthusiastic supporter of the defeated Initiative 732.   Mankind is doing too little to slow carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and a well-designed carbon tax or fee can use the free market to effectively respond to the problem.  Economists of all political backgrounds acknowledge the power of taxing what you don't want (in this case emissions of carbon) in encouraging people to make different choices.  Like driving smaller cars or switching to electric vehicles.

But Initiative 1631, whose goal is to initiate a carbon fee in Washington State, is deeply flawed and poorly constructed, and I believe destined for certain and dramatic defeat.

The Essentials

Initiative 1631 would establish a carbon fee that would slowly increase over time.  Unlike Initiative 732, it would not be revenue neutral, but would use the proceeds of the fee to support climate justice, renewable energy, retraining, and other activities related to global warming impacts.  
The Problems

There are so many serious deficiencies with this initiative, one hardly knows where to begin.

1.  How the money will be spent is vague

There are really no clear guidelines on how the money will be spent.  15%  should address the "energy burden" of poor households, 10% goes to the Tribes, 35% to environmental justice, $50 million to help displaced fossil-fuel workers, and the rest to vague goals in supporting renewables and clean energy.

Decision authority on how the money will be spent will be given to a 15-member board appointed by the Governor to four-year terms, and would include one tribal representative, one representative of vulnerable populations/health action areas, and the six co-chairs of a collection of panels.   So basically a group of liberal activists, appointed by a Democratic governor will make the decisions.

There is no strategic plan, no requirements for technical knowledge, and a guarantee the spending will be highly political.  Not only is such a group practically guaranteed to spend the funds unwisely, but such a plan would certainly lose the support of moderates and Republicans. 

Most folks are not willing to spend money when they don't know what they will get.  That is the problem of I-1631.  Can you imagine if the bill had specified real, tangible benefits?   Such as supporting the rapid build out of rail from Seattle to its eastern/northern suburbs?

2.   The Initiative Would Make Washington State's Regressive Tax Structure Even Worse

Whether the money comes from a tax or "fee", the effect is the same... to make the cost of carbon fuels more expensive. Money people will have to pay out.  Unlike I-732, the proposed initiative will not return the funds to taxpayers, but use the funds for a wide range of unspecified activities that are somewhat connected to climate change in the minds of the oversight board.   

The financial impacts of I1631 are clear:  this is essentially a new tax that is not based on income.   It will substantially raise the tax burden on everyone, including low-income folks, who are just as dependent on cars and trucks as anyone.  Thus, just like the sales tax,  it will be highly regressive, with the poor paying a higher percentage than their richer neighbors.  The media has headlined our regressive tax structure in Washington State.  I-1631 will make it much worse.

3.  I-1631 is Highly Partisan

To pass in Washington State and to serve as a blueprint for action for other states, any carbon tax or fee must have bipartisan support.  A revenue-neutral carbon tax could garner support from both sides of the aisle, as was true for for I-732.  For example, ast year, major Republican figures came out in support of a national revenue-neutral carbon tax.

Unfortunately, it would be hard to design an approach more likely to turn off Republican and independent voters than I-1631.  Not only is it not revenue neutral, but the funds are hardwired in the direction of Democratic supporters (labor, the tribes, minority and low-income "climate justice" groups).   Even worse, the control of the funds is put in the hands of an oversight committee selected by a Democratic governor.

I-1631 is designed to reject the moderate and conservative electorate (e.g., nearly all of eastern Washington and Vancouver, WA) and will not be suitable to serve as an example to the nation.

4.  I-1631 Gives Too Many Exemptions and to the Wrong Groups

To garner support, I-1631 gives exemptions to many business groups.  For example, it exempts local power companies (e.g., PSE), which is a total mistake since it represents a major user of fossil fuels.  The initiative also exempts coal-burning facilities (e.g., the Centralia coal plant), that offering perverse incentives to burn more coal, one of the dirtiest fuels.  And there a dozens more exemptions that I won't list.   I-732 did not do the exemption thing, but removed the B & O taxes to help businesses.

5.  I-1631 Starts Off With Too Little Impact

This initiative begin with a fee of $15 per ton, which would increase gas prices  by about 14 cents a gallon.   Not enough to make folks alter their lifestyle or the vehicles they purchase. Everything we know about climate change tells us that a large and immediate reduction is needed.  I-1631 starts weak, particularly compared to I-732, which began at $ 25 a ton of carbon emissions.

I could go further about the problems with I-1631, but you get the point:  this is a hopelessly flawed initiative that not only won't effectively address climate change in our state and would waste huge sums of money, but it will needlessly politicize what should be a bipartisan effort.   I should note that the key supporters of I-1631, The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, the labor unions, and the Sierra Club actively opposed the revenue-neutral carbon tax (I-732).  

Why?  Clearly, because they did not gain access to the money.  With I-1691 they would.

A Revenue-Neutral Approach:  Far Superior By Any Measure

Now imagine a different approach, one in which a sufficiently large carbon tax is applied to encourage folks to reduce their carbon emissions.  An approach that would refund ALL the money back to the people so they are not taking a financial hit.  A revenue-neutral approach.

But it could be better than that, we can refund the carbon tax in a way that provides preferential relief to low-income people.  There are many ways to do this.  We might reduce the State sales tax by 1-2%, lessening the most regressive tax we have.   Or we could give everyone back the same carbon tax dividend, which would preferentially help low income folks that can't afford the carbon rich lifestyle of the wealthy.   Some funds could go into a low-income tax credit, as done in I-732.   

Our state has the most regressive tax structure in the nation.  The proper use of a carbon tax could help improve this dismal situation.

But it is even better than that.  The carbon tax could be bipartisan, bringing the State together to begin to address the threat of anthropogenic global warming.  And such a carbon tax could have legs, with the ability to spred to red and blue states around the union.

The question is not whether I-1631 will pass.    It won't.  Can you image folks taxing themselves to contribute to such a poorly designed and vague plan?  Will low-income people willingly tax themselves hundreds of dollars a year to support the vague goals of some environmental activists?  You know the answer.

The real question is what happens after I-1631 fails.  Will the environmental left that killed I-732 decide to drop their financial demands and join in a bipartisan effort to deal with carbon emissions without social engineering and giveaways to their constituencies?    We will see.  

Climate change forced by increasing greenhouse gases is too serious an issue to waste time and effort, which is exactly what 1631 will do.


Announcement:  The Northwest Weather Workshop is on April 27-28

The NW Weather Workshop is the big annual meeting for those interested in Northwest meteorology.  This year we will have a major session on the meteorology of NW wildfires and others on other aspects of our regional weather.  The gathering takes place at the NOAA facility in Seattle.  To view the agenda and to register, go to the meeting website.  The workshop is open to everyone, but registration is required.


  1. Consistently, public polling reveals two incongruous things about how people regard climate change risk.

    A majority say they want more to be done to mitigate the problem.

    A similar majority say they don't want it to cost them anything.

    This is so bizarrely incoherent that it is tempting to think they are lying about one or the other. You care but not if you have to lift a finger? Regardless, we can only assume they are somehow serious about both so a carbon tax can't cost them, even as it climbs over time.

    And the social Justice warriors need to go to the back of the bus on this one, if Washington's last attempt is any indication.

  2. Bruce - that's just basic human nature. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way. This cannot be changed, so forget about coherent thinking. Coherent thinking simply isn't how the world works, which is why intelligent, science-based arguments will never solve this problem. Put simply, humans must feel PERSONAL pain, or pleasure, before they will change their ways.

  3. I-732 already failed. It failed because it didn't win over many conservative voters, while many liberal groups weren't willing to get behind a revenue-neutral approach. I-1631, on the other hand, should get consistent support from liberals, which is probably enough to make it pass in our relatively blue state even if conservative support is low.

    I agreed with you that I-732 had a lot going for it, and the implementation could be tweaked (to avoid a revenue-negative budget office assessment, for instance). However, the reason that I-1631 is set up the way it is is because the I-732 vision already went to the ballot and was voted down. Given this situation, I'm not sure why you keep advocating for a bill like it.

    To run through your points:
    1. "How the money will be spent is vague."
    Can't disagree with you here. I wish there were more specific guidelines about where the money goes. However, there are lots of studies to support that money invested into green infrastructure and climate resilience creates big ROIs, and most of the money would be legally bound to go to those types of projects. So, I have trouble forseeing this spending as a net negative even if the lack of specificity makes the impacts not as positive as they could be.

    2. ""The Initiative would worsen Washington's already regressive tax structure"
    I-1631 is very clear that it is a fee on large emitters. Whether this is a good structure is another question, but I don't suspect many low-income people will be taxed because they will mostly be small emitters.

    3. "I-1631 is highly partisan"
    Yes it is, and climate action as a whole is a partisan issue whether you like it or not. I-732 polled under 20 percent in the state's most conservative counties. Given the nature of conservative thinking, I don't think the revenue-neutral aspect of the bill was what bothered these conservative voters, so it stands to reason that they were opposed to the carbon tax part instead. If you have ideas for boosting support for carbon pricing among conservatives, I would love to hear them. Otherwise it seems that boosting liberal support is the most practical path forward (in Washington state, anyway).

    4. "Too many exemptions"

    Although I'm not completely on board with the exemptions in I-1631, they don't strike me as especially unreasonable. They are mostly aimed at ensuring the competitiveness of local businesses, which is a legitimate aim because we don't want carbon-intensive industries to move to other states and keep emitting while we lose their business. The coal plant exemption is rather narrowly tailored to apply only to the Centralia facility, which is legally bound to close in 2025. I don't know why local utilies are exempted and it is a sticking point for me as well.

    5: "Starts off with too little impact"
    I think that both the I-1631 and I-732 lines on your chart should start at a higher price than they do. However, I think that voting down this initiative will not help, since it would keep the price signal at zero until something else passed (who knows when that would happen). As you say, climate science tells us that large and immediate action is necessary, and I would rather choose moderately-sized, immediate action than no action until an undetermined time in the future.

    That is why I will be supporting the initiative in the election this fall.

  4. Kyle,
    From my review of the numbers, I am convinced that I-732 would have passed if the unions, environmental groups (e.g., Sierra Club) and some major Democratic politicians had supported it. I 1631 starts with the opposition of Republican and conservative groups, which have considerable numbers in our state. There is a powerful anti-tax sentiment building in the state, and the tax/fee of I-1631 will not be attractive...particularly since the benefits are amorphous--a real weakness of the initiative. Imagine if it would have funded concrete, useful things (like funding of new rail from Seattle to the Eastside)... My take is that it doesn't have a chance....not even close. ..cliff

  5. If this new initiative was approved what would be the real impacts to the average person? How much would their heating bill go up or a gallon of gas, their food bill, restaurant bill...?

  6. Cliff, you crack me up. This is Washington State you are talking about. It is the most tax and fee happy state out there! There is no going back on taxed revenue, there are only increases and poor spending habits.

    As for 1631, it will pass. Not because it is a good bill. It will pass because there are enough environmental justice warriors who will see it as 'carbon bad, I must do something' without even reading the bill and understanding what its intentions are.

  7. John K - I agree, this is human nature, yet we know, after 500 years of basic and applied science, the one single thing that levered us into our spectacular standard of living ( it wasn't just intelligence or intuitive thinking, a thing that has only remained generally unchanged over centuries as you point out) that we can, if skilled or at least respectful of proven skill along with those institutions in which it is practiced to such spectacular results, that we can minimize our cognitive errors.

    What Cliff Mass is doing, if only we could set aside straining it through our biases and intuitions ( incompetent, generally) to realize what he says, not what we think he says.

    Something that is consistently rejected as a topic ( not by you clearly) is basic human cognitive psychology which in the age of Cambridge Aylitica and Facebook, is a total tragedy of judgement.

    The benefit of Carbon taxation is in behavioural change and the little payed out to accomplish that, is peanuts.

    But only if the public understands the basics of how and why we behave, in a context of our moral obligation to the next generation, not just our own special interest.


  8. Interesting timing for this post, as I was just approached by a signature gatherer for this initiative on the Mukilteo Ferry this morning. Because of Tim Eyman's terrible campaigns (among other terrible initiatives) I have a hard rule of never signing anything until I've thoroughly researched the issue. The gatherer couldn't tell me anything other than "its to support clean energy and reduce pollution" and "signing isn't voting for it, the initiative is just to get it on the ballot," which is code to me to do more research.

    I just read the initiative language and I have to agree with Cliff's take on this. The exemptions are laughable, the oversight board is another opaque layer of state government, and the goals and impacts are extremely vague. I'm a hard-core environmentalist, but this doesn't pass my smell test.

  9. Sorry, any tax is not peanuts to the working poor. You know, families that actually work and don't lay around collecting hand outs. Families that make $25,000 to $50,000 a year with multiple jobs.

    I don't see the moral obligation the working poor has???!

    Wealth and carbon generation go hand and hand. So.. Tax the wealthy, use the money to create clean energy incentives for the working poor.

    I-1631 does not do this, it actually compounds the consolidation of wealth problem that is tearing this country apart.

    Even $0.15 0n a gallon of gas tax, just kills working class folks living paycheck to paycheck. The Bottom 50%, the blue collar working class does NOT have multiple big houses, or boats and multiple cars. Again tax luxury!

    We could use the money to promote eating local grown food, that is not shipped in from far away, reducing global carbon while helping our local farmers.

    Instead, those that support this tax want to do the opposite, and punish local farmers with higher fuel costs, giving the advantage to out of state or out of country producers!!!

  10. organic farmer - stop repeating the obvious while ignoring the obvious, which is design the tax to protect the "working poor" not mention everyone else by implementing progressive tax measures and if you are dealing with a highly libertarian minded populous, a revenue neutral carbon tax.

    None of these things are impossible, as is evident elsewhere, all it takes is law that says so

  11. The I-732 folks have decided that they support I-1631.
    Their analysis here:

  12. Let's try to understand some basic economic tenets here - no matter if the tax allegedly targets only "large emissions - based users", the tax will inevitably impact the poorest among us, period. It is solely another regressive tax scheme, there's nothing progressive about it. All the obfuscation and wordspeak won't change that outcome.

  13. As long as a billion Chinese and a billion Indians are burning coal, this initiative will not do a thing to impact global carbon emissions. It amounts to environmental masturbation and ego stroking about how we’re saving the planet. Barf!

  14. Cliff - This is exactly my point: I-732 would have passed if more Democrats and liberal groups had supported it, despite very low support among conservatives. Yes, there were some Republican politicians who supported it, but it polled under 20 percent in the most conservative counties: not a good starting point. That is probably why I-1631 tries to shore up liberal support rather than chasing conservative votes that don't seem to exist on this issue. Will it still fail because of anti-tax sentiment and somewhat vague guidelines on how the money will be spent? I suppose it could, but I'm not as convinced as you.

    It is a noble goal to continue trying to get bipartisan support for a carbon tax, but I don't know how you could make a carbon pricing bill that is much friendlier to conservatives than I-732. Because of that, I'd rather pass some kind of carbon tax now rather than sitting on our hands another 2 (or more) years. As for a nationwide bill, I hope carbon pricing becomes a less partisan issue in the future, but that doesn't seem to be where we are right now.

  15. If I_1631 (or any bill) changes behavior to reduce the generation of carbon, then we should consider it, regardless of a lot of poorly executed details.

    Think of the great defacto "carbon tax" that we had years ago, when fuel became very expensive. It changed behavior. People started buying more efficient and smaller cars. Car companies started designing more efficient cars. Hybrids came along. Everything was heading toward greater efficiency and less carbon release.

    Then the "carbon tax" was reduced. Gas got much cheaper. Now the growth segment of the car industry turned back toward bigger and less efficient vehicles again. Car companies can't make enough full-sized pickup trucks to meet demand.

    Changing behavior of people and industries is what the laws need to focus on. And in our society, money drives behavior. If you get that right, the rest are details.

  16. John Marshall exemplifies the real underlying issue for the proponents of bills like this - they want to change your behavior via coercion, and have no interest in persuasion. Either do what we say or else you'll be sorry. So much for a republic.

  17. Alternatively, if there was a way to tax (significantly) every coal or oil loaded railcar transmitting the state, tax revenue would be substantial.

    Washington electric utilities are not big contributors to the carbon creation. Washington's electricity is produced with very little fossil fuel and the two coal plants left are slated to go off line real soon. Continued efforts at promoting energy-efficiency by the electric utilities is having a positive impact on power consumption. Not so much by the gas utilities, though.

    Transportation is a greater source of the problem. Face it, folks needing to commute to work by car have little choice because there are few routes with transit. The topography does not lend itself to that (Puget Sound, Lakes, mountain range). Plus, Federal mileage standards are on the chopping block by the current administration. Electric cars that can be charged by our relatively clean and reasonably priced electricity are still really expensive for families struggling to make ends meet, so they may not benefit much by the technology, leaving them to carry a greater share of the carbon fuel tax.

    The state agencies chosen by the proposed initiative have not demonstrated an ability to develop and efficiently implement any of the proposed programs funded by the tax. It's not reasonable to believe they can create the kind of relationships and workable delivery mechanisms to have a much of an impact on the state's carbon footprint.

  18. The "coal exemption" is not limited to Centralia. It is broad to include any coal plant that enters into a closure agreement. In addition to Centralia, Colstrip 1/2, Valmy, and Boardman are examples of coal plants that would likely be exempt. And some lawyers believe that exempting Centralia (an in-state coal plant) would require exempting all coal. I think the drafters of I-1631 have tried to be careful here; by exempting any coal plant with a closure agreement, that is a multi-state equitable treatment, and may survive the (inevitable) federal court challenge. I applaud that care, even though I think the exemption is inappropriate.

    It is incorrect to say that Washington utilities have low carbon emissions. PSE gets about a third of its electricity from coal, and a third from gas. Pacific Power is about 50% coal. Avista in Spokane is about 15% coal.

    I think Cliff got one thing wrong in this post. As I read I-1631, Section 5 would allow use of the money to build additional dams for water storage, for example, in the Yakima drainage, where agriculture uses more water than is often available. So there is a direction of some of the funds to an Eastern Washington (and generally Republican) voter base. But it's obfuscatory language, so maybe I'm reading it wrong, and Cliff has it right.

  19. I sat in on one of the Alliance for Jobs & Clean Energy listening sessions, where "normal" people (ie, non-activists, non-economists, non-partisans, non-corporations) got to share their thoughts on how to solve climate change. You know what I heard? Taxes aren't enough to solve the problem alone. Instead, we should be spending money on fixing the problems and adapting to the climate change already baked into the planet. Additionally, these people didn't know how to best solve problems, but they would consent to using our republic to delegate authority to people who could meaningfully deliver solutions.

    Remember that the reason we haven't solved climate change is because it is biggest of all market failures. Government intervention in some form is required to fix what the economy does not explicitly value - the continued existence of the human species organized in high-complexity civilizations.

    So I-732 was an attempt to reach out to the theoretical conservatives who care about extending our ability to live on this planet so much that they would pay nothing to do it, and it only got 20% of the conservative vote. There's something defective about a mentality that doesn't value the preservation of the species enough to pass a revenue-neutral tax. That's crazy. Why would anyone design a policy to meet voters with a self-destructive mentality?

    Now, I-1631 still relies on a market to minimize emissions while using the revenue to actively solve problems that got us here. It solves the market failure and at least tries to fund solutions. The money is actually finely divvied up into a range of many types of projects, detailed in the initiative text. If you have a concern about this process, then first pass the initiative then petition the governor to be appointed to the committee.

    You know what we haven't tried? A top-down command and control approach. For example, a government could pass laws to utilities stop burning coal and natural gas, as well as an order to citizens to replace natural gas furnaces and older cars. I haven't heard anyone in the environmental community suggest that, however a utility economist suggested it to me a few years ago. For the electricity sector where there's relatively few large generation sources that are responsible for the problem and we have some relatively easy solutions, this approach might actually work best, without all the hand-wringing about transferring money from person A to person B. Instead, just directly modify our utility fuel mix, without any notion of penalties or rewards, or tax implementation details. Just do it.

    However the rest of the economy is harder to manage and doesn't have quite the same level of drop-in replacements. So a moderate market-based approach would be better economy-wide. Investing in solutions makes it a much more compelling proposal.

    I suggest anyone that doesn't like the command and control approach should be advocating for I-1631 instead, and actively participate in our society to address what they think needs to be done better. The time for half-ass approaches was 2006. Conservative thinking cost us almost two decades, making the problem harder to solve. Now, the bill is due and it is much higher. Any serious proposal needs to address our state's part of this global problem: Preserve the ability of humans to live on the planet in high-complexity civilizations. If your proposal doesn't pass that test then rewrite it, get on board with a better proposal, or go home and get out of the way.

  20. Leave it to the "progressive" thieves to try and put a tax on gasoline that isn't spent on the roads, as the state constitution requires. Seattle "progressives" have no respect whatsoever for the law, and they are just another pack of rich people who want to stick it to the working class, as always.

    And for what? A phony cult based on broken models, invalid statistics, altered temperature records, badly designed research, and academic shyster groupthink. No, no, no, no!

  21. "A top-down command and control approach."

    Aaaaand there you have it. Once the masks are finally off, the truth is laid bare. Thank you for being so honest regarding your true authoritarian aims. Government always knows better, just ask the Venezuelans.

  22. Brian Grunkemeyer - I think even "abnormal" people agree that Carbon taxes are not enough. I mean after all, I don't think taxes were what won the Second World war eh? The purpose of a Carbon tax is twofold:

    1) as we all have noted, to steer behaviour toward choosing alternative energy.

    2) Less noted but equally or even more important, A Carbon Tax is a law and laws of the land represent a deliberate conscious decision by society to in this case, finally after two or so decades of denial and foot dragging, accept reality as a nation and publicly proclaim that we are going to do the tough work that the right thing usually demands.

    Again, just as past generations, globally not just American, did to confront Fascism 70 years ago.

    As for how to pay for it all, thats a good question, especially considering that again unlike WW2, so many are loathe to take the slight risk or incur any cost. You just don't see too many Place Slippers volunteering to donate their old tires or buy Climate change bonds.

  23. To Eric Blair... persuasion has failed, so its time to utilize the democratic concepts that WA and many states have available -- direct citizen votes on initiatives where the majority of voters get to decide the issue.

    Given the US was founded along somewhat democratic lines of thinking, which have been greatly reinforced over the years, I think the idea of citizens deciding when the Legislature won't makes a lot of sense.

    And governments have always coerced people. That's what they do. The difference here is that it's direct democracy potentially taking control of certain issues of governance, not just elected officials. This is the reason the Initiative process exists in our state: to drive changes that a corrupt or moribund government cannot. Direct Democracy, while despised by many, is a way to give the majority a voice they cannot achieve through their elected representatives.

    If only we had it at the Federal level!

  24. Interesting to see Bruce Kay's ad hominems. Sign of cultish desperation.

  25. CO2 does not drive the climate. The process of climate and changes in climate are much more complex. Sun spot activity, MJO, Milankovich cycles" etc. etc. How much more arrogant can people get in thinking they can"save the planet " that has been here 4.5 trillion years. I say let's take money and clean up our wet lands, look into alternative energy sources other than wind and solar power which both need lots of coal to create their components. Electric cars take rare earth minerals (as do ipad etc) to create. See the conditions in Africa where these things are mined. Read Jim Steel's book for a starter on this. Landscapes and Cycles.

  26. John Marshall - we don't live in a democracy, we live in a republic. Amazing that so many seem not to understand the basic priciples on what this country was founded. Your comments indicate a preference for the tyranny of the majority over the minority, something that our founders were wary of when our Constitution was being debated. Once again the authoritarian tendency is readily apparent.

  27. just one note - not a single add hominem in my post. Not one.

    But no matter. It's still a sign of cultish desperation!

  28. For the record, Earth's age is estimated to be 4.5 billion not trillion.

    Trillion is a mind boggling number which represents the USA'S debt... (21 trillion)

  29. Candis - no one (knowledgable anyway) has ever said "CO2 drives the climate".

    They have only said ( the knowledgable anyway) that CO2 is most probably the driver of climate.....


    Notice particularly the "most probable" which is hardly any indication of arrogance, but a strong indication of humility in the face of uncertainty. Just sayin...... as we all know, we do need to get our language and terminology right as Place Slipper will only agree.

  30. So are you all going to vote for I-1631? If not, what will you do instead to preserve our ability to live comfortably on this planet?

  31. I should have put down n 4.5 billion. The average person who does not study climate feels that somehow they are guilty for the "climate change, global warming etc." Even if we try to get "our terminology right," the majority of people that have been brainwashed feel that CO2 is a toxic culprit! and is a driver of the climate - these are not my words but the words of people I talk to. I do my best to educate those who are interest about this. They do not even have the most rudimentary concepts nor the terminology of climate/weather to begin with and they are confused and misdirected with the images and sound bites they receive. So, we will tax CO2 - doesn't that just reinforce the guilt?? Even if we de- industrialized the whole world, the amount of CO2 decrease would not change the temperature in any major way. ( per various studies that I have read). Climate variations have been with us for billions of years - Roman warm age, Little Ice age, Maunder Minimum ,I can go on. Why not put the focus on the environments that need our help. Wet lands, farm lands, reforesting areas.Do some more studying and you will see what I am saying. Look at the history of climate since just 11,500 years ago and see how the climate has had major variations. It is not a hockey stick - perfect climate until 200 years ago.

  32. Isn’t addressing something as complex and important as climate change by ballot initiative a mistake to begin with? Aren’t we going to fail to collectively address this and other vital issues until we reform and modernize our democratic institutions to be both more representative and more participatory?

  33. Pray tell us Jim - what methods would you like to see enacted in order for your wish to "modernize our democratic institutions to be more representative and more participatory?" Personally, I can't wait to hear them.

  34. Even Carbon Washington, the organization behind I-732, supports I-1631. Cliff's view that we should wait for something more perfect and better and oppose this initiative, strikes me as making the perfect the enemy of the good, and there's no perfect policy that we can wait for and no time to wait for it. There is no perfect carbon tax initiative, all will have some trade-offs, and I-631 does a good job of navigating those trade-offs. As a former steering committee member and fellow with Carbon Washington and a strong supporter of I-732, I am disappointed in Cliff's view and urge you to support I-1631 and do your own research on the initiative rather than relying on Cliff's rather one-sided and unfairly negative take on it. Here's a rather balanced take from the Carbon WA board which links to a deeper analysis:

  35. Alex, many of us here have done the research and made our own informed conclusions, but it's obvious via your comment that you haven't bothered to read any of the commentary here regarding the subject.

  36. As you say, damn near any formulation of a carbon tax needs the vote, considering how America - among the wealthiest yet also among the least committed to lead - remains at least a decade behind many other demonstrably effective carbon pricing initiatives so splitting hairs seems a bit myopic.

    So if thats all there is on the ballot, vote for it. Which I'm sure Cliff Mass will be first to do but don't forget that it failed last time, entirely due to those who claim to care about climate change the most petulantly letting it die because their particular agenda wasn't getting the grease. Hard to say if Red State anywhere will ever get on board so its a gamble to try to woo them but its also a sure bet you'll drive them further into Alex Jones agenda 21 conspiracies if you make the tax exactly as they always suspected.

    I'm of a firm belief that about half of the most vocal climate activists are actually less concerned about climate and more delighted to use it as a proxy for their own "anti establishment" agendas. It is plainly evident in BC where they will never advocate for any hydro development ever..... inventing all manner of reasons why not yet still claiming climate change as one of their drums to pound. At least as Bizarre as any INFOWARS kook show.

    Good thing these guys are a fringe but it is easy to think that all progressives are just as myopic, if it smells like it. The more revenue neutral a carbon tax is, the less this paranoia is enflamed. There is still a chance that the big centre in politics will shift away from the right wing denial machine and the sooner the better.

  37. I agree that we need much more urgent and effective policies to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

    I strongly disagree that a politically practical price on emissions (<~$50/ton) would significantly affect emissions. In 2014 we were paying the equivalent of about $150/ton compared to today's gas prices, and that didn't stop us from driving.

    ACEEE surveyed 19 carbon taxes around the world and found a median annual emissions impact of just 1.3%. Anyone serious about our climate emergency is not proposing a carbon tax, especially one that refunds the fees back to those who paid them.

    I agree that bipartisan support would be useful, but global temperatures would have to rise more than 6C for the Koch brothers to allow Republican support. (great book: "Democracy in Chains") Most of the conservatives in Congress have proudly signed a pledge to the Koch brothers, “I, ______________, pledge to the taxpayers of the state of _________ and to the American people that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.” http://noclimatetax.com

    That pledge rules out conservative support of any carbon price that is capable of affecting emissions, since dividending it back to everyone who indirectly paid it will simply negate the behavior it’s supposed to encourage. If 223 million people get more money back than they spend on gasoline, then we’ve just reduced their cost of gasoline… Even Exxon thinks fee-and-dividend is a good idea. You’ve got to wonder if something is wrong with this picture.

    The real social cost of toxic and climate pollution from gasoline is conservatively estimated at well above $3 per gallon. That’s what many European countries charge, and they haven’t quit their driving habits.

    What to do? We must steer purchases of new emitting infrastructure into purchases of zero-emission infrastructure, whether through better financing deals, charging for the lifetime emissions of the car/house/factory power plant, simple mandates like banning gas/diesel vehicles after some future date, or other policies. Google the Coalition for Green Capital to find some efficient ways to finance clean (and cheaper!) infrastructure for families and businesses.

    Some sides get hurt in revolutions. In the clean-energy revolution, fossil fuel consumption must be nearly eliminated. Many trillions of dollars of fossil-fuel infrastructure will be stranded. Automakers who don’t transition to zero-emission vehicles will go out of business. And more.

    Or else we’ll all be swept up in an amazing and horrible collapse spiral, as climate scientists have been warning. You can fool voters but you can’t fool physics.

  38. I am perpetually amazed that anyone can continue, relentlessly despite all evidence to the contrary, to claim that "carbon taxing does not effect energy habits" offering only the utterly deceptive "Europeans have not stopped driving cars" as some sort of proof.

    There is no economist alive ( ok maybe you might find one or two) that will back up your conclusions, and that is not based purely on theory, it is based on a decade or so of global wide case study.

    America has a navel gazing problem of magnificent proportions.

  39. Bruce, of course there'll be some impact from any level of tax. Quoting the conclusions of the cited ACEEE study of 19 carbon tax systems at https://aceee.org/files/proceedings/2016/data/papers/9_49.pdf :"To put these figures in context, in the recently concluded Paris climate agreement, nations agreed to reduce their emissions by 80% or more. A reduction of 4%, while helpful, is a drop in the bucket. If we apply the median reduction per year (1.3%), it would take over 110 years to reach the 80% emissions-reduction target."

    Yes, Europeans have a fleet average fuel efficiency about twice that in the US. I'm sorry, but that is not sufficient either. China and several EU countries have mandated or are considering mandating the phase-out of gas and diesel vehicles by some date. Mandates are simple and work, ala renewable portfolio standards, or Portland's ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure.

    Economists have a tool problem--if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.

  40. Bipartisanship. Drink!

    With what the Republican Party has become, there will be no useful compromise on this and many other matters. Until such time as they return to sanity, please, let's not talk about bipartisan solutions to climate change; they are chimerae.

  41. Just want to point out (as someone who's employed in the environmental sustainability sector, I have to spend time to thoroughly read and analyze proposed legislation like this) that there are a few accuracy issues in your analysis. Most importantly, your claim that coal plants are exempt, therefore incentivising the increased burining of coal. The exemption applies to "coal closure plants," meaning that only the coal plants that are going to be completely shut down by 2025 will be exempt. As far as exemptions go for utilities, we need to keep in mind that only 25% of Washingtons share of energy is generated through fossil fuels. This is also expected to drop to smaller levels with other state regulations aimed at reducing our energy dependence on carbon-based fuels. A big concern of many conservatives is the additional cost for energy that would disproportionately affect lower-income households. Having exemptions in place for utilities, especially considering that such a small portion of our electricity generation comes from fossil fuels, will aid in easing the burden of new costs placed on lower earners. Now do I think that this is a perfect plan? Absolutely not. But as I have learned with the thousands of hours I have spent concerning myself with these issues, a perfect plan does not exist. No matter what we do or how we do it if we want to transition to a clean energy society, people are going to have to make some sacrifices, including slight increases in energy costs. Also consider that 15% of the largest appropriation (70% of total revenue generates by the fee) must be appropriated to projects, programs and other means of helping to reduce the energy burden for low-income households. This isn't exactly a small share of the revenue, and sure it may not help us address the energy burden for everyone but I do believe that it's sufficient to help the ones who need it most. And as far as you saying the use of the money is incredibly vague and open to politicization by the oversight board, I just think this is straight-up false. The vast majority of the language and the actual initiative which I have read as it was submitted to the Secretary of State's office is aimed at directing how the money should be spent with pretty specific requirements for what impacts come out of those expenditures. Not to mention the oversight board doesn't get to just willy-nilly spend the money how they please as the Department of Commerce, in cooperation with other agencies including Washington State University's extension energy program, is responsible for developing an investment plan for the Oversight Board to direct the funding in a manner that achieves the emission reduction goals of both this initiative and other relevant state laws. Other action areas will be addressed with investment plans set forth by the applicable agencies and organizations (i.e. dept. Of agriculture for addressing soil erosion and carbon sequestrarion). Sure, politicization is inevitable, but the plan is comprehensive enough to limit this issue.

    I do agree, however, that the oversight board must have requirements for expertise in the subject matter. The section detailing the role of the oversight board does require that the membership constitutes a collective expertise, but apart from the defacto members (like Dept. Of Ecology director) there are no specific requirements for the chair and four at-large individuals that constitutes and expertise in emission reduction plans.

    I realize how long ago this issue was discussed here; I only commented now because there isn't much in the way of independent analysis on this initiative, and searching the words "I-1631 independent analysis" yields this post as one of the top results. If that's the case, I at least think that the issues I raised should be noted.

  42. So, How much did Western States Petroleum Association pay you? Your argument is confusing for someone who should understand the cause of rapid global warming.

  43. It also deems burning of biomass (e.g. wood) to be "carbon neutral" under the same dubious standard that the Trump admin did via the EPA earlier this year. This is what gives the mills and biomass plants a pass under 1631. 5 of them are in the top 10 industrial contributors to greenhouse gases in Washington State.

    Scientific American published an article in response to the EPA's action calling wood's carbon neutrality into question and suggesting it may be worse because wood gives off all of its CO2 when burned but only takes it in slowly over years or decades.


    Additionally, EU countries allowed this exemption as well, and it is leading to increased logging and deforestation in Europe and the US.


    It's so sad to see "environmentalists" behind a bill that is silent and complicit to bad science in a way that actually might undermine the environment. Has the concept of carbon taxing now outgained the concept of actual environmental impact?


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

Undergraduate Scholarship Fund in Honor of Steve Pool

Steve Pool was a leading television meteorologist in Seattle for nearly 40 years..... but he was so much more. In addition to providing mete...