Not this time, Jay.
Not this time, Jay. Office of the Governor

The main plank of Gov. Jay Inslee’s efforts to fight climate change died late Thursday afternoon in the Washington State Senate.

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“We were one or two votes short,” said Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, the sponsor of the bill to create the nation’s first pure carbon emissions tax. Inslee and Carlyle counted the votes Thursday afternoon and learned they had fewer than the 25 senators needed to pass the bill.

Carlyle acknowledged that the likely 8-cent-per-gallon state gas tax increase due to the proposed tax was a big factor in the vote count falling short. Carlyle declined to say which Democrats did not support the bill. He said the bill had some Republican votes, but declined to identify those senators as well.

All this leads to the specter of a public initiative on a potential carbon tax in November—a measure that would likely be less comprehensive and nuanced than Carlyle’s bill.

The proposed $12-per-ton-of-carbon-emissions tax would have focused on trimming carbon pollution and its ripple effects, with the money going to help people deal with global warming. The bill’s intention was to trim Washington’s carbon emissions to 25 percent of 1990 levels by 2035.

Inslee was not available for comment late Thursday. The failure dealt a blow to Inslee’s image as the nation’s leading governor on environmental matters Rumored to be eyeing a presidential run, a carbon tax would’ve been a major piece of pioneering climate legislation to tout to the country. This has been the first session in six years that Inslee did not have a GOP Senate majority dedicated to killing any climate change-oriented bill.

“We came close but there were a handful of votes that kept it from moving forward. The governor is pleased to see how far it progressed this year. It had broad support from a variety of legislators, and leaders from the business, labor, tribal and environmental communities, as well as people from all over the state. There is a real appetite for addressing climate change in our state, and the governor looks forward to continuing this crucial conversation with the legislature and with Washingtonians,” said governor’s spokeswoman Tara Lee.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon would have shepherded the bill through the House if it had passed the Senate.

“I can’t tell you it was a big surprise. It was going to be difficult … We got some traction that we didn’t have before (in previous years) ” he said. Fitzgibbon had not done a vote count in the House, waiting to see what the Senate wold have passed.

“It made it further than an carbon system in th untied States. Nobody expected it to get this far,” Carlyle said. Oregon and California have types of carbon emissions caps, but not straight-out taxes on carbon emissions.

Both Carlyle and Fitzgibbon said major bills frequently take a couple years for legislators to become comfortable wiht a new concept. Carlyle speculated that Washington will have a carbon tax in one or two years.

Senate Republican leaders were low-key about the failure of a bill they strongly opposed.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, declined to comment beyond saying “everybody knows my opinion”. Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale and the lead GOP legislator on environmental issues, said he would wait until the end if the session on March 8 before believing the bill is dead.

Carlyle’s bill had 67 exemptions or tax breaks to numerous industries because they use lots of energy and will face out-of-state and foreign competitors who don’t have to factor a carbon tax into their costs. Some of the proposed tax breaks in Carlyle’s bill would go to the oil refineries, steel and aluminum industries, pulp mills and many agriculture-related facilities.

Starting July 1, 2019, Carlyle’s bill would have raised the carbon tax by $1.80-per-ton-per-year until it hits a maximum of $30 a ton in 2031. The bill would have generated $637 million in revenue in 2019-2021 and $872 million in 2021-2023, according to Washington Department of Revenue’s calculations.

That money was supposed to go exclusively to carbon reduction and climate change-oriented measures.

Those would have included supporting clean energy ventures, helping facilities trim their carbon emissions, helping agriculture deal with the ripple effect of the tax, boosting wetlands, dealing with forest fires, providing financial help to the poor to deal with their energy needs, improving water supplies, helping workers displaced by carbon-cutting measures, increasing electric transportation in rural areas, and boosting broadband services in rural areas.

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Most scientists accept that carbon emissions contribute to global warming, which has ecological ripple effects.

Carbon emissions are linked to global warming, which influences how snow packs melt, which in turn affects how much water is available for farming. Carbon emissions are also a factor in the increasing acidity of the water along Washington's shores, including Puget Sound, which has begun killing baby oysters and harming other shellfish harvested in the Northwest. Also, global warming is blamed for the increase in Washington’s forest fires.

The controversy is largely over whether forcing smokestack industries to significantly trim emissions will chase lots of jobs and business profits from Washington. The affected industries argue this will happen.

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