Op-ed by Rep. Terry Nealey: Governor’s carbon tax scheme could hurt Washington’s economy, cost jobs

Several days ago, two charts were presented during the state’s revenue forecast that caught my attention. One shows job creation is growing in Washington. The other shows that nationwide, the number of those without work for 27 weeks or more remains high.

Rep. Nealey speaks on the House floor as Rep. Walsh listens on.This tells me while Washington is recovering from the Great Recession, our state’s economy remains fragile. Many Eastern Washington counties are struggling. In fact, two local counties, Franklin and Columbia, had the highest unemployment in the state in December at 11.3 percent and 11.1 percent respectively.

That is why many Republican- and even Democratic- colleagues in the Legislature share my concern about Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposal to impose a huge tax on many job creators in Washington.

Introduced as House Bill 1314 and Senate Bill 5283, the governor’s legislation would enact what is known as “cap and trade.” The program would limit the amount of carbon that could be emitted by more than 130 entities he calls “big polluters.” Beyond that limit, they would have to pay for their emissions – estimated at $1 billion annually.

Who are these “big polluters”? In southeast Washington, the governor’s hit list includes major employers, such as Tyson Fresh Meats and Gas Transmission Northwest in Wallula and the ConAgra Lamb Weston plants in Pasco and Richland. Agrium Fertilizer in Kennewick would have to pay an annual carbon tax of nearly $5 million and Boise Paper in Wallula would be charged $3 million. Inslee’s tax would also hit aluminum plants in Wenatchee and Ferndale by more than $42 million.

Imagine the impact to jobs and our economy if any of these companies curtailed operations!

If cap and trade is enacted, gasoline prices could increase by 44 cents a gallon in five years and natural gas prices by 23 percent. If the Legislature doesn’t act, the governor says he may impose a low-carbon fuel standard by executive order that could raise the price of gasoline by more than a dollar a gallon.

Costs wouldn’t be exclusive to “big polluters.” They would be shifted to all of us, including families and small businesses who could least afford it, in the form of higher prices for groceries, products, energy, gasoline and heating fuel.

And yet, this scheme would accomplish little or nothing against global warming. That’s because Washington is already one of the cleanest states in the nation. Our clean hydro power generates 70 percent of the state’s electricity. We are among the top 10 states for the most wind power generation, fewest miles driven, fewest solo auto commuters, the highest use of public transit and energy efficient policies. Washington has the seventh cleanest economy based on CO2 emissions.

Consider this: we could eliminate every person, car, boat, train, jet, military vehicle and even every cow in Washington state and still not have a meaningful impact (less than three-tenths of one percent) on global carbon emissions.

We want to be good stewards of our environment. We’ve demonstrated better ways to do it, such as cleaning up toxic sites, gradually reducing dependence on coal, addressing derelict vessels, and clearing fish passages, without hurting our economy and eliminating jobs.

The Legislature needs to stimulate employment, not stick it to employers with feel-good schemes that could cost jobs, hurt families and make little or no difference for our environment.

Join me and my fellow lawmakers to stop this legislation, to keep our state’s economic recovery on track and to get Washington working again!

Editor’s note: Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, represents the 16th Legislative District and serves on Washington’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

State Representative Terry Nealey, 16th Legislative District
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
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