We must continue to reduce carbon emissions, but Initiative 732 is the wrong approach for Washington businesses and workers.
Over the years, Washington voters have not had any opportunity to directly participate in the debate over climate policy — having to read about either multi-national agreements signed halfway around the world or Gov. Jay Inslee’s carbon dioxide reduction proposals in Olympia. All of that will change this year when voters get to weigh in on Initiative 732, which would enact a new energy tax on every Washington family and business under the guise of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
This is not a debate about whether to reduce carbon emissions; it’s a debate about how we do it. The No on 732 Campaign, supported by the Washington Farm Bureau, Tri-City business leaders, the Association of Washington Business and labor groups, seeks a collaborative solution, based on the fact that innovative technology and incentives, not new taxes, are the keys to environmental progress. Presented with these two approaches, we believe Tri-City voters will soundly reject I-732.
There are few things we value more as Washingtonians than the natural beauty of our state. All of us have a responsibility to safeguard our environment for future generations.
For over 20 years, our state has been acting to reduce emissions and energy use. Whether it’s manufacturing aluminum, food, electricity or world-class airplanes, plants in Washington are the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly in the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, CO2 emissions from Washington’s industrial and commercial sectors are now lower than they were in 1990 — despite a more than doubling of the state’s economy. Since 1990, Washington’s population has increased from 4.9 million to 7.1 million, but we rank among the lowest of the 50 states in per capita CO2 emissions. We’ve proved to the world that we can simultaneously create opportunities for Washington workers and protect the environment.
In addition to our long-standing leadership in controlling carbon emissions, Washington is simply not a good candidate for energy taxes like the one proposed by I-732 — a point made by Benton PUD and Franklin PUD when both Commissions voted to oppose I-732. As the Benton PUD noted, thanks to our abundant hydropower, nuclear, wind and solar, our electricity is already 90 percent carbon free. If I-732 passes, the Benton PUD estimates that it will impose, in an average water year, a new $4.3 million tax expense on Benton PUD customers in 2017 and $7.3 million in 2018. The tax would then increase annually by approximately $500,000, irrespective of the fact that the majority of electricity provided by Benton PUD is carbon free.
But I-732 is more than a tax on production plants and electricity; it’s also a tax on the average citizen who uses gasoline and natural gas. Even the initiative’s supporters concede that I-732 would increase the price of a gallon of gas by 25 cents almost immediately while increasing the price of natural gas by 15 percent. Forcing Washington families and employers to pay more for the cost of day-to-day life, like driving to school or work.
Driving up the price of energy would, however, force Washington companies, or those thinking about locating here, to expand production elsewhere. Don’t think this would happen? In 2013, after California set up a similar carbon-pricing scheme, there were only 46 manufacturing operations that started or expanded in that state. Texas, among the highest carbon emitting states, had 253 that year. Taking manufacturing plants out of clean states like Washington and moving them to much higher carbon-emitting states or countries would not support the goal of reversing climate change.
There are many people in this debate who are genuinely motivated to make a difference on climate policy. We don’t disagree with them on the goal; we disagree with them on the solution. Collaboration and innovation — not new taxes — are key to climate progress. Our state would be best served if voters rejected I-732, and we put our shared environmental values behind the kind of solutions that have proven to produce results and keep jobs in Washington.
Tony Umek of West Richland is CEO of AKU Enterprises. Mike Bosse, a Benton City resident, is president of the Central Washington Building Trades Council.