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0000017b-f971-ddf0-a17b-fd73f4140000Coverage of the 2018 Elections in Spokane, throughout the region, and across the country. Support for SPR Election reporting is provided by Spokane Journal of Business, Express Employment Professionals, and SPR members.Click here for a list of 2018 Election Coverage Special Events

Voters Asked to Approve Fee on Carbon Emissions

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An initiative on the Washington state ballot would enact a fee on carbon releases from some major industries. It’s an idea that has unsuccessfully come before Washington voters in the past, but this time organizers say they have fine-tuned the plan.

The new plan to reduce carbon emissions is similar to one that went before voters a few years ago, but this time, I-1631 has been crafted specifically so the money raised from carbon emitters is collected as a fee, rather than a tax.

I-1631 proponent Nick Abraham says, by making that distinction, the money collected can go to specific projects, rather than into the state’s general fund.

“With our fee on polluters, these investments are going to go to clean energy, energy efficiency, retrofits and insulation on people’s homes so they can use less energy, going toward wind and solar projects. But it’s also going to go to natural resource investments, and one of the best ways we can reduce pollution is investing in healthier forests that can pull that pollution out of the air,  ” Abraham said.

The fee would be $15 per metric ton of carbon beginning on January 1, 2020, and would increase by $2 per metric ton each year until the state's greenhouse gas reduction goals of 2035 are met. It’s estimated the fee would take in about a billion dollars per year.

Opponents say imposing that fee on industries like gasoline refineries will simply mean higher prices for consumers.

“And it would force Washington families, consumers and small businesses and farmers to spend billions in higher costs for gasoline, electricity and natural gas costing the average household $440 a year and it increases every year,” said Dana Bieber from the No on 1631 campaign.

Bieber cites a study by the group NERA Economic Consulting with the $440 per year estimate.

Proponent Nick Abraham takes issue with the study, and says NERA is a discredited firm, whose past work included a study to downplay the health effects of smoking. Abraham cites another study by the Washington Budget and Policy Center that shows an average cost of the proposed carbon fee at $13 per month per household.

Bieber also has concerns about the group that would be appointed to designate which projects the money would go to.

“1631 would create this unelected board of political appointees that would be responsible for doling out the money really any way they want, because there is no spending plan, and they are not accountable to voters," she said.

Abraham says the concept of an independent board was prompted by concerns that political gridlock would prevent lawmakers from being able to agree on spending priorities.

“if we didn’t have a board of experts in health and science to help them design a policy, they would be doing it in a vacuum. That causes political divisiveness over time, so we created a board of these experts to help them design a plan,” he said.

Another criticism of the plan by Dana Bieber focuses on the fact that several carbon emitters in the state are exempt from the new fee.

“Twenty-three different industry sectors, large industry manufacturers, pulp and paper mills, aircraft manufacturers, aluminum and steel manufacturers, get a special exemption and they don’t have to pay the tax. So that, in and of itself, renders the measure ineffective. And what it also does is it pushes the cost down to small businesses and Washington families, who will bear the brunt of this unfair energy tax,”  Bieber said.

Abraham explains that one major carbon emitter that is exempted, the Centralia coal fired generating plant, is actually scheduled to begin to shut down just as the initiative would take effect in 2020. He explains why some other facilities, steel, aluminum, and cement producers, which sell on the global market, are also exempted.

“We really wanted to make sure these emissions weren’t offshored out of state. We wanted to make sure we're not just exporting our emissions. But it’s also because we have to build a whole set of infrastructure to get to clean energy. We're going to have to invest in these things. And we're either going to get the concrete, steel and aluminum from in-state workers or we're going to have to get those things from overseas,” Abraham said.

The previous carbon tax initiative in 2016 was defeated by voters with a 59% no vote.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.