The Washington Capitol in Olympia.

The Washington Capitol in Olympia.


If you’re at the Seattle Mariners season opener Monday you might run into some folks with clipboards, gathering signatures for a newly-announced initiative for 2016 that would tax carbon emissions.

The circulation of petitions to put Initiative 732 on the 2016 ballot signals a new strategy that may come into play if Gov. Jay Inslee and fellow Democrats in the Legislature are unable to pass their own carbon cap-and-trade proposal.

The Initiative would phase in a $25-per-ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions from certain fossil fuels and fossil fuel-generated electricity, starting in July, 2017. The proceeds would go into the general fund and be directed to offset reductions in the state sales tax and the business and occupation tax on manufacturing.

Gas prices would eventually go up by 25 cents per gallon but rebates of up to $1,500 per year would be provided to 400,000 families in Washington to make the tax “revenue neutral.”

“On average most households will pay a few hundred dollars a year more for fossil fuels and a few hundred dollars a year less for everything else,” said Yoram Bauman, head of Carbon Washington. The group’s website includes a calculator for determining CO2 emission costs

The carbon tax is modeled on the system already in place in British Columbia. (You can read EarthFix coverage of BC’s carbon tax here, including an interview with BC’s former minister of the environment.)

The environmental community is divided over how best to price carbon. Climate Solutions, a Seattle-based non-profit, supports Inslee’s cap-and-trade approach.

“We’re excited that people care so much about climate that they’re looking at ways to pass an initiative,” said Ross Macfarlane, who manages Climate Solutions’ business partnership program. “But we’re concerned that Carbon Washington’s proposal is premature and… is building their strategy around a particular policy and hoping that it results in a winning strategy. “

Carbon Washington needs to gather 325,000 signatures in order to get the carbon tax initiative in front of the Legislature. If the Legislature doesn’t pass it, it will go on the 2016 ballot.