SEATTLE (CN) — A ballot initiative that would to make Washington the first state to impose a carbon tax is dividing environmental groups. Initiative 732 would impose a tax on fossil fuels used or sold in Washington, in an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Coal, oil, natural gas and fossil-fuel generated electricity would be taxed at $15 a metric ton of carbon dioxide in 2017 and progress gradually to $100 per metric ton under the measure.
Modeled on a similar policy in British Columbia, the proposal is billed as “revenue-neutral.” The taxes collected would be used to reduce the state sales tax by 1 percent, and businesses will get reductions in their business and occupation tax. Low-income families would get a tax credit.
A survey released Monday by independent pollster Stuart Elway shows I-732 leading with 40 percent in favor, 32 percent opposed and 28 percent undecided.
Major environmental supporters include Carbon Washington, sponsor of the initiative, and Audubon-Washington, Cascadia Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
More than 50 professors at the University of Washington have signed a letter supporting the initiative, including atmospheric sciences professor Cliff Mass. Mass writes a popular weather blog and has placed a call for support at the top of his page.
“I-732 will help reduce Washington State’s greenhouse gas emissions, make our tax system less regressive, and potentially serve as a potent bipartisan model for the rest of the nation,” Mass says.
Audubon Washington, a field office of the National Audubon Society, says I-732 will provide “swift and effective action to reduce carbon pollution and help mitigate the impacts of climate change.”
But other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, disagree. The Sierra Club has urged its members not to support the initiative, but said in a statement: “This was not a decision reached lightly.”
The Sierra Club said poor people and people of color are those most affected by pollution and climate change but were not involved in the initiative discussion.
Environmental groups that oppose the initiative say they agree that climate change needs to be addressed, but want a proposal that also invests in renewable energy. Opponents also say the gasoline and utilities increases caused by I-732 will disproportionately affect low-income residents.
The state Democratic Party also opposes the initiative.
The editorial board of the Seattle Times recommended rejecting I-732, saying it would “create a significant hole in the state budget — and the budget of working-class Washingtonians — and provide questionable environmental benefits.”
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