Yoram Bauman says that I-732, a ballot initiative that he helped author, could be a significant step towards solving one of the world’s most seemingly intractable problems. At the same time, he says if it passes it won’t be a big deal for most the state.
I-732, a ballot measure that will be considered by Washington state voters in November, would place a $25 tax on every metric ton of carbon pollution in the state. The idea behind it is that by making carbon emissions more expensive, businesses will emit less and look for cleaner forms of energy. However, any revenue from the tax would be offset with tax breaks, making the measure revenue neutral (although the legislature’s Office of Financial Management disputes that).
The initiative is modeled after an existing policy in British Columbia and includes a special tax rebate for low-income households. However, a coalition of progressive groups remain opposed to the measure, arguing that any revenue from a carbon tax should be used to invest in clean energy and vulnerable populations. The coalition has also taken issue with how the initiative has been crafted to appeal to more right-leaning constituencies.
Bauman, a “stand-up economist,” was recently in Spokane to pitch the measure to the Association of Washington Business. While in town, he talked to the Inlander about the politics and economics behind I-732. His remarks have been edited.
Inlander: You’ve really stressed that it’s revenue neutral. Why is that so important?
Yoram Bauman: We think that the way to get action on climate change and make it more of a bipartisan issue is to abstract it from the question of, 'Is government too big or too small?' We are changing what we tax instead of how much we tax. I think revenue neutrality is important as a way to appeal to conservatives, to Republicans, to people who are starting to care about climate change but have small government tendencies.
When this initiative was being created were there conversations about using it to fund something like the McCleary decision (which mandates basic school funding)?
There was some discussion about that, sure. I think the problem with McCleary is what is the nexus between a tax on carbon and funding for education. A carbon tax could generate maybe $2 billion a year. McCleary is maybe $5 billion.
Education will be here forever. Carbon tax revenue will hopefully decline in 50 or 100 years.
The Vancouver City Council unanimously voted last night for a ban on new oil refineries and facilities in its industrial zones.
The Columbian reports that the move by the council only affects existing and new facilities that take in an average of less than 50,000 barrels a day, meaning it won’t have any bearing on the proposed Tesoro-Savage terminal, which would be the country’s largest crude-by-rail project and would increase the number of oil trains passing through Spokane and other communities. Oil train opponents, however, say the council’s vote sends a message to state officials, including Gov. Jay Inslee, who will give final approval or denial for the terminal.
“By taking this step, the City of Vancouver is standing up for little towns like ours who don’t have the same power, but who bear the risks of oil trains just the same,” said Arlene Burns — the mayor of Mosier, a town in the Columbia Gorge where an oil train derailed and went up in flames last month — in a statement.
In other oil train news, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a new rule that would require railroads to develop comprehensive plans to respond to oil spills, including the worst-case scenario. The new rule also requires railroads to share information with state and tribal emergency response agencies, including the routes and an estimate of the weekly number of trains passing through each county within the state.
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