Next month’s election could potentially be historic for Washington State, where voters will have the choice of enacting the first-in-the-nation carbon fee — a concrete measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Measure 1631 has the support of several prominent Washington-based businesses including REI, Expedia, Microsoft and Northwest Energy, and over 100 businesses in total.
If passed, I-1631 would enact a carbon emissions fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon, starting in 2020, with this fee increasing by $2 annually until the state's greenhouse gas reduction goals are met. Revenue from the fee would be used to fund various environmental programs and projects, and provide support to communities that might be adversely impacted by rising energy costs in the short term. It could also raise up to $2.3 billion for clean energy investment by 2025.
“One of our guiding principles at Expedia Group is a bias toward action, and so we are proud to support I-1631 as part of [our] broader goal to balance the carbon impact of travel with proactive efforts to keep our air healthy for future generations,” Maureen Thon, senior manager for corporate communications at Expedia, told Sustainable Brands.
Two years ago, a proposed carbon tax was soundly defeated in the state. That bill faced several challenges, not to mention real divisions within the environmental community and lackluster support from business and labor entities.
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This time, things are different — partly because the bill is designed as a fee, rather than a tax; and the fact that it will reinvest funds towards clean energy and other environmental initiatives. But another big reason is the reality that since 2016, calls for action on climate change have only gotten louder and more urgent, most recently epitomized in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that says we only have 12 years to reduce emissions or face a climate change catastrophe.
“Inaction by Congress and the President can’t stop states from passing major climate policy with broad support,” Kelley said. “Inaction and political gridlock can and must be overcome to face this most important challenge to our kids’ and grandkids’ futures.”
Of course, not all businesses are on board. The big outliers are, not surprisingly, large out-of-state fossil fuel companies, who are putting millions into opposing the bill. According to Seattle-based news outlet The Stranger*,* these out-of-state interests — under the banner of the Western State Petroleum Association — have raised more than twice as much as the initiative's backers. This makes local business support even more important.
“The No campaign is funded nearly entirely by out-of-state oil companies, so having flagship Washington businesses on board reminds the public that I-1631 is a homegrown solution that will reduce pollution and make clean energy more affordable and accessible,” Kelley said.
Right now, the few polls that have been released show that the fee is leading, but advocates aren’t taking anything for granted and are urging more companies to join the Yes coalition. Last week, Microsoft — which instituted its own internal carbon fee in 2012 — joined the coalition, stating in a blog post that "I-1631 represents an important first step on carbon policy. Given what is at stake and what can be gained, we think it’s an opportunity that should be embraced at the ballot box on Nov. 6."
As election day approaches, REI wants to see more Washington businesses get involved in the campaign, as it provides a real opportunity to walk the walk when it comes to sustainability.
“So many companies have articulated their desire to act in the interest of the planet, and this is a very good way of showing action,” Alex Thompson, VP of Brand Stewardship & Impact at REI, said via email. “I encourage other organizations, whether in Washington or outside Washington, to think about getting involved.”
Consumers will be appreciative, too — as REI has observed since publicly expressing its support for the bill.
“The reaction has been uniformly positive,” Thompson said. “We believe that’s partly because REI members understand how important a healthy ecosystem is.”
Washington is a vote-by-mail state, so voters can already decide on the future of I-1631. Many eyes will be on the results, because if Washington passes a carbon fee, it’s likely only a matter of time before other states follow.