On Wednesday, organizers of one of Washington State's grassroots climate initiatives announced they had gathered enough signatures to put a carbon tax proposal in front of the state legislature early next year.
Carbon Washington, a revenue-neutral carbon pricing proposal (don't worry, we'll explain what that is!), wants to tax polluters $15 per ton of carbon emitted in the first year of implementation, $25 per ton of carbon in the second, and up to $100 in the following years.
President Obama, along with leaders from France, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Ethiopia, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Organization of Economic Cooperation, have all called for carbon pricing as a way to decrease emissions.
This time last year, Governor Jay Inslee proposed a carbon pollution accountability plan that would have charged the state’s top 130 polluters as little as $12 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted, but, facing resistance from the oil and manufacturing industries, legislators killed the idea. Organizers of Carbon Washington hope to appeal to both sides of the aisle by proposing to use the revenue from the tax as a swap: The initiative would cut the state sales tax by a whole percentage point, nearly erase the business and occupation tax for manufacturers, and fund the Working Families Tax Rebate with $1,500 a year for 400,000 low-income families.
This week, Carbon Washington, or I-732, reached its petition goal of 330,000 signatures. The law requires 246,000 valid registered voter signatures in order to go to the state legislature, and Carbon WA believes the excess of 84,000 signatures will cancel out any invalid names.
Now, the state legislature has three ways to handle the petition. It could do nothing, in which case the initiative would go to the ballot in 2016. The legislature could also pass the initiative. The third option would be for the legislature to send the initiative to the 2016 ballot with another alternative created by state legislators.
"Right now we're talking to legislators and staffers at the House," Ramez Naam, a member of the executive committee of Carbon WA, said. "We think we've got a fair shot to pass it."
Then again, Carbon WA is talking to the same state legislature that refused to pass any of Governor Inslee's proposed climate policies this session, and even held funding for mass transit and bike lines hostage against the prospect of passing a clean fuel standard.
The other challenge Carbon WA faces is another carbon pricing initiative from a different set of groups on the left—a coalition of labor unions and social justice groups that proposes to use revenue from a carbon tax to help communities most adversely impacted by climate change adapt and find green jobs. Yoram Bauman, a "stand-up economist" who helped launch Carbon WA, has faced criticism in the past for his comments on the racial and social justice focus of the alternative proposal.
Though both groups have pledged not to put two carbon pricing initiatives on the November 2016 ballot, some fear that the two initiatives could end up cannibalizing one another and destroying the chance to pass a carbon pricing initiative next year.
Naam, however, says that the two groups are "in communication" and fundamentally on the same side. "We do have a very progressive measure, and I think that we haven't gotten our message across fully about how progressive that is," Naam said. "It's very much a debate among friends."
Revenue-neutral carbon pricing schemes also just won support from a big-name speaker at the Paris climate talks. Entrepreneur Elon Musk gave a speech at the Sorbonne this week in which he advocated for a revenue-neutral approach.
Watch the whole talk here: