Carbon Tax Continues to Percolate in Washington

Carbon Tax Continues to Percolate in Washington

This year marked the third year in a row that policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were considered by the Washington State Legislature. In 2017, several bills called for putting a price on carbon emissions via the imposition of a carbon tax with revenues used to support programs related to climate change. While none made it into the final House or Senate budget proposals, their use as a budget negotiation tool kept them alive right up to the final days of the Legislature’s third special session as the Legislature searched for ways to pay for increased spending requirements for public schools.

The most likely vehicle was sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, chair of the House Environment Committee and a Democrat from Burien and West Seattle. His bill, HB 1646, was a broad-ranging carbon tax proposal supported by the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, a green/labor coalition joined by some businesses. HB 1646 called for the state to use carbon tax revenues to help communities disproportionately affected by flooding, drought, wildfires and other effects of climate change; people suffering from pollution; and low-income individuals who would not otherwise have access to clean energy sources. It also sought to buffer the effects of job losses in places such as Anacortes and Ferndale, where petroleum refineries are located. Finally, it called for the state to invest in projects to reduce emissions.

Supporters of a carbon tax were clear with legislators that if the lawmakers didn’t act, they would. Accordingly, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy has begun organizing support for a November 2018 ballot initiative to put a price on carbon emissions and use the more than $1 billion generated per year to build industries like wind and solar; provide support to workers impacted by the transition to a clean economy; ensure communities hit hardest by climate change receive their fair share of investments; and provide assistance to families with lower incomes so they have access to affordable, clean energy.

This effort hopes to correct mistakes made during a similar campaign in 2016, when voters rejected I-732, a referendum to create a statewide carbon tax. A major reason for I-732’s failure was fierce controversy among environmentalists over how the tax’s revenue should be used. The measure was designed to be revenue neutral, with extra money raised from the carbon tax used to lower the state’s sales tax and to fund a rebate for low-income families. However, some environmental and social advocacy groups felt that some revenue from the tax should be used to fund clean energy investments and other social and climate-related projects. For this reason, some groups ultimately decided not to support the legislation – resulting in significant confusion among voters.

AIA Washington Council is monitoring the specifics of these and other proposals as the language evolves. We will work to shape provisions that provide for better options related to energy use reductions during building design and renovation. Meanwhile, we will continue support stronger energy codes as a primary method for the state to reduce energy use in new building construction and energy retrofits.

Coalition-Building: Zero Net Carbon Building Alliance

AIA Washington Council is a founding member of the Zero Net Carbon Building Alliance, a Washington state coalition working to scale up adoption of zero net carbon buildings (including energy retrofits) for all. This effort will engage thought leaders and policy makers while pursuing the adoption of market catalysts such as financial incentives, competitive city/state grant programs and code requirements for zero net carbon buildings. The goal is to increase the number and type of zero net carbon building related incentives and policies adopted by cities, counties and state government and by increasing the number of zero net carbon buildings permitted and/or built. AIA member Zack Semke of Nicholson Kovalchick Architects chairs the Alliance’s Steering Committee and Action Task Force. Kirsten Smith, AIA Washington Council Manager of Advocacy, also serves on the Steering Committee and Action Task Force.

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