Washington state residents could pass the nation’s first-ever carbon fee program this November.

Residents in Washington will be voting on the Clean Air, Clean Energy Washington initiative in November and if it passes it will be the nation’s first carbon fee program. Also known as Initiative 1631, the initiative aims to apply a carbon fee to major gas emitters whose industrial activities contribute to climate change. Supporters of the initiative have raised about $14 million to achieve their campaign, while the opponents, the oil and gas industries, have raised $29.7 million to counter the move.

Washington voters will decide in a referendum that could set a precedent for other U.S. states to follow. As the Trump administration downplays climate crises, it is state voters and state initiatives like Initiative 1631 that could force the federal government’s hand to adopt a more active role in the climate change movement. Other U.S. states could also take a cue from Washington if voters have their way; but if the voters fail, the oil industry will prevail thanks to huge spending efforts, Inside Climate News reports.

“If people from the ground up support taking on a challenge this significant, then we can do it at the national level, too,” said Julie McNamara, an energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, to Inside Climate News. “And of course that’s of concern to oil and gas companies.”

Carbon Fee Revenue Could Provide Clean Water, Energy, Healthier Forests

With the Washington initiative, heavy fossil fuel companies, as well as carbon emitters within Washington, will pay a pollution fee starting at $15 per ton of carbon emissions produced. Some predict these companies will pass the costs on to the state residents via price increases at the pump and electricity bills. It is estimated that each family will pay between $159 to $440 in the first year the fee is applied.

At the same time, it is estimated that the $2.3 billion to be realized from the carbon fee in the first five years will be channeled into developing vulnerable communities, accessing clean water and energy as well as cultivating healthier forests.

Fierce Battle Over Pollution Fee

The $29.7 million funds raised by the oil industry to combat the initiative is the most ever to defeat a ballot initiative in Washington.

In 2015 a related ballot initiative to pay for carbon in the state was defeated when 59 percent of voters voted against it. But this time around, 14 Native American tribes and nations with several other health groups as well as numerous communities formed a coalition to support the carbon fee initiative.

“It started out as a values conversation among labor, environmental groups and communities of color,” Nick Abraham, communications director for the coalition, told Inside Climate News. “It’s broadened out to be the most diverse and largest coalition in our state’s history.”

The scheduled vote comes after Washington State experienced terrible climate-related disasters this year. Some of these include widespread smoke from wildfires in Seattle, the declining orca population, and ocean acidification in Puget Sound, among others. Advocates for the initiative hope that with revenue from the carbon fee, climate change will be reduced, impoverished Native American communities will be assisted, and displaced workers will be set on their feet again.

Some Are Exempt from Paying Carbon Fee

The coalition has pointed out that some Washington businesses which are considered energy-intensive will be off the hook in paying the carbon fee. Some of these include TransAlta’s Centralia coal plant, which will shut down in a few years and has historically contributed 26 percent of Washington’s carbon emissions; also exempt are iron, cement, aluminum, paper and aircraft companies. The concern is forcing these to pay the fee may tempt them to move their businesses from Washington, leading to job cuts.

Critics of the fee do not think exempting some businesses is a good idea.

“Good for those who were able to cut a deal with the proponents that got them exempted, but then that leaves the burden all squarely on the families and small businesses and farmers who were not able to cut a deal,” said Dana Bieber, spokeswoman for the No on 1631 coalition.

Some of the biggest oil companies that donated to counter the fee initiative include BP America, Phillips 66, Andeavor and the Koch Industries. Microsoft’s Bill Gates, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and REI are some who gave money to see the initiative pass.

 

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