1 big thing: Washington state’s climate test

Source: By Amy Harder, Axios • Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Olympia, Wash. — The political landscape is ripe for this progressive state to approve a carbon price after a decade of failed attempts, fueled by disgruntlement with President Trump and a uniquely broad coalition.

Why it matters: If voters approve a ballot initiative this November imposing a fee on carbon dioxide emissions, it would reinvigorate liberal leaders despondent over Trump’s anti-climate change policies. If the measure fails, it’ll reinforce a prevailing notion that carbon prices are politically unpopular.

“If we are going to move toward more state-driven climate policies, the question of whether a state could adopt a carbon price is pretty significant.”
— Barry Rabe, professor, University of Michigan

The big picture: Putting a price on carbon emissions is considered an essential piece of addressing climate change, but it also makes energy products that run our lives more expensive — most notably prices at the pump.

Flashback: 2 years ago, Washington voters rejected a similar ballot initiative that had more support among conservatives. A lot has changed since 2016, so there are signs that this year’s proposal has a higher chance of passing, despite deep uncertainties about the policy and a more aggressive opposition than last time.

Here’s a glimpse of the changing dynamics, and check out the whole thing on the Axios stream…

1. Trump: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat flirting with a 2020 presidential run, says a vote against the proposal is a vote for Trump’s anti-climate change positions. That’s a leap in logic, but it could be effective messaging to discontented voters in the mostly blue state of Washington.

2. Broad coalition: Organizers of the proposal have convened a coalition larger and more progressive than the last effort. Backers include Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and an array of environmental groups.

  • The money raised from the carbon fee — technically it’s not a tax — would fund clean-energy investments and other causes (clean energy would get 70%). That’s a more progressive policy than the 2016 initiative that lowered other taxes.

3. Moneyed opposition: Washington is America’s fifth-largest refining state, so it’s not surprising opposition is coming largely from petroleum companies. The industry was mostly neutral on the 2016 proposal, reflecting that measure’s more conservative and industry-friendly cred, but now opposition is ramping up.

4. Policy uncertainty: The proposal doesn’t get into details about how the money would be spent other than dividing it into general categories. The policy authors say those details will be filled in upon passage. Experts worry it could lead to unintended consequences, political favoritism and/or no actual emission reductions.

What’s next: If it passes, expect other states to replicate it, Rabe says. If it doesn’t pass, Inslee says he’ll keep fighting — in the state legislature and at the ballot box. He might even pursue it from the White House, if he follows through with a 2020 run.

The bottom line: “I don’t think failure to pass is necessarily the kiss of death for other states or nationally,” Rabe says. “But, it would further underscore the political difficulty of doing this.”