Washington State carbon tax rejected soundly, again


Washington state voters have now twice rejected a carbon tax. This most recent version being one that would use the revenue to upgrade infrastructure, while the prior would have been used to offset other taxes. Per the state of Washington’s last count, the vote was 56% against, and 43% on just over $1.9 million votes.

Seattle Times graphic

Initiative Measure No. 1631 (.pdf) would have used 70% of its revenue collected through the act would have been used for clean air and clean energy investments. 25% would have been used for clean water and healthy forest investments. The final 5% would be used for investment in “healthy communities”.

The initiative, starting in 2020, placed a tax of $15/metric ton of carbon. The rate increased $2/year until 2035, when it would have hit $55/ton.

A $15/ton carbon tax would add 0.9¢/kWh to natural gas generated electricity, 1.5¢/kWh to coal, 15¢/gallon to heating oil, and 13.6¢/gallon to gasoline. The $2/year increase would add 0.1¢/kWh to natural gas generated electricity, 0.2¢/kWh to coal and 1.8¢/gallon to gasoline.

The state’s largest solar power project, a 28 MW-DC single axis tracker system, recently came online.

One could argue the state is already quite a bit on the way toward cleaning itself. Washington’s last coal plant is scheduled to close in 2025, and with 6.3% of its electricity coming from coal in 2018 so far, 15% from gas, 8% from nuclear, and a whopping 65% from hydroelectricity, the state’s electricity is already quite clean. It is estimated that 48% of the state’s carbon emissions come from transportation and oil.

Two years ago, Washington voters rejected another carbon tax – Initiative 732. It was argued by many that by taking on the form of “revenue neutral” – paying back all of the money to through a sales tax cut, via rebates for working families, and a tax break for manufacturers – the tax wasn’t meeting the problems head on, and that eventually it would hurt the state’s broader tax base. The vote was rejected by 59% of the population.

Reuters reported that the U.S. oil industry spent greater than $30 million against the initiative, while green groups and billionaires have spent about $15 million in support. BP donated the most against the act, at least $13 million according to Ballotpedia. The largest donor in support was the Nature Conservancy, which provided $3.38 million in cash and in-kind donations.

Research suggests that the population is open to paying a $177/year carbon tax, with some in depth ideas on where they’d like to spend it, however reality hasn’t found the right mix.