OPINION EDITORIAL by Rep. Terry Nealey: We can effectively reduce carbon without the governor’s punitive tax increase
Since taking office in January 2013, Gov. Jay Inslee has used the climate change issue to propose billions of dollars in new taxes to regulate greenhouse gases. His climate change agenda has found mediocre legislative support. His cap-and-trade proposal gained no traction in the Legislature and he was prohibited by legislation from enacting his low carbon fuel tax proposal by executive order.
The November elections shifted power in the Senate, giving Democrats majority votes in both chambers of the Legislature. So now, Gov. Inslee is using that as an opening to push his latest proposal, a $3.3 billion carbon tax.
While half the money from the tax would be paid by power plants and fuel importers, consumers would be affected in the form of higher energy prices. If enacted, the governor's policy staff says consumers could expect to pay a 4 to 5 percent increase in electricity, a 9 to 11 percent increase in natural gas and higher gasoline prices by as much as 18 to 20 cents per gallon.
Interestingly, little of this tax revenue would be used for carbon reduction or programs to reduce climate change. Instead, the governor wants to use much of the carbon revenue on education, when we already have an additional $7 billion dollars directed for K-12 programs under the McCleary solution the Legislature passed last year.
As House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen said, the governor's carbon proposal is “extremely tax heavy and policy short.”
If we are serious about reducing carbon in Washington, there are better, more effective ways to do it than imposing punitive taxes that would most impact low- and middle-income families.
The following policy changes would no doubt garner much larger support across our state and in the Legislature than the tired, old fallback position of raising taxes.
First, let's require utilities to reduce their carbon generation by 95 percent within the next 15 to 20 years. That's not a big stretch, given the fact that Initiative 937, passed by voters in 2006, mandated utilities have at least 15 percent of their electricity portfolio from renewable resources. Generating low-carbon energy such as hydro, wind, and solar — and yes, nuclear which emits no greenhouse gases — Washington's utilities have already reduced carbon output by more than 80 percent. Why place a carbon tax on utilities that are already clean?
Next, let's encourage consumers to purchase electric and low-emission vehicles. I'm excited about new technologies that would eventually put electric semi-trucks on the highways. While cars emit about four tons of carbon into our atmosphere, long-haul trucks emit 188 tons annually. Let's incentivize the use of electric trucks, busses and even ferries, which would significantly reduce total carbon output.
Let's also work for policies that would clean excessive dead brush and fuels from our forests, which have been responsible for some of the worst wildfires and greatest amounts of carbon emissions in Washington in recent years.
Finally, rather than penalizing employers and families with a carbon tax, let's offer businesses tax preferences for directly implementing certain renewable energy and carbon reduction investments.
Washington contributes only three-tenths of one percent (0.003%) of total global anthropogenic climate emissions, and is ranked ninth lowest for CO2 emissions per capita nationally. It wouldn't take much to make Washington the lowest for carbon output, but we don't need a punitive tax to achieve this. There are smarter, better and more effective ways to do it, if we rely more on carbon-reducing policy changes and less on tax increases that do nothing to clean our environment.
Editor's note: Rep. Terry Nealey is the ranking Republican of the House Finance Committee and a member of the Technology and Economic Development Committee.