Senator Doug Erickson (R-Ferndale), chair of the Energy, Environment, and Telecommunications Committee, pushed the idea of a hidden gas tax to work against climate change legislation throughout this past legislative session.
Senator Doug Erickson (R-Ferndale), chair of the Energy, Environment, and Telecommunications Committee, pushed the idea of a "hidden gas tax" to work against climate change legislation throughout this past legislative session. Washington State Legislature

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Governor Jay Inslee started out this legislative session with hope. He had a big, ambitious plan to generate revenue by introducing a cap-and-trade system for the state's biggest polluters. He also wanted to implement a clean fuel standard, which would reduce carbon emissions and create better health outcomes for Washington citizens.

By the end of the session, Inslee's carbon plans were dead. A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists may shed light on some of the reasons why.

The UCS report, entitled "The Climate Deception Dossiers," compiled a trove of leaked documents on the oil industry's agenda to fund climate denialism and the fight against clean energy policies. One of the oil industry lobbies listed in the report is the Western States Petroleum Association, or WSPA. Last fall, Bloomberg Businessweek published a leaked WSPA Powerpoint presentation on how to kill off clean energy policies in the West. The Bloomberg piece focused on WSPA's aspirations for California's low-carbon fuel standard law, but another look at the full WSPA slide deck shows how that agenda likely operated in Washington, too.

For example, the WSPA Powerpoint showcases Enterprise Washington materials thanking Senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) for "protecting our environment" on a slide entitled "engaging politically." Ericksen, chairman of the Energy, Environment, and Telecommunications Committee, was one of the most vocal opponents of Inslee's carbon proposals. He also pushed the idea of a "hidden gas tax" that's been echoed in every major campaign against clean energy standards in the West. (So far, these claims have proved to be greatly exaggerated. In California, where legislators passed a cap-and-trade plan that included emissions from burning gasoline, gas prices still fell in January despite dire warnings about increased gas prices during that month from the oil industry.)

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The WSPA presentation also featured an "engaging consumers" slide that looked at offerings from a group called Washington Consumers for Sound Fuel Policy. Washington Consumers for Sound Fuel Policy also disseminated "hidden gas tax" literature, which is little surprise given that its members include the Association of Washington Business and a number of oil industry and oil industry-related groups.

WSPA did not elaborate on the specifics of what the "engaging politically" slide meant. "Senator Ericksen represents many of the refineries that our members operate," Tupper Hull, vice president of strategic communications at WSPA, told The Stranger. "Senator Ericksen has made no secret about many of the proposals that would be unnecessary and harmful on those refineries. The fact that the senator has a viewpoint that's similar to ours is not surprising and publicly well-established."

But because of Ericksen's and other Republican legislators' opposition to Inslee's carbon proposals, WSPA's 2014 agenda now appears to be a fait accompli. Ericksen has been criticized in the past for taking freebies from oil industry lobbyists, and the oil industry has also significantly contributed to his campaigns. He did not respond to a request for comment.

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