Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll: Unlocking carbon gridlock in Washington a matter of inclusion, not exclusion

At face value, there are things to appreciate about Carbon Washington’s Initiative 732, the climate change initiative effort that delivered signatures to Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s office Wednesday. It hopes to reduce the state’s carbon emissions by creating a new carbon tax and, in theory, accelerating the state’s move toward cleaner energy sources.

Provided the signatures hold up, the Legislature will get the first crack at passing it. If lawmakers fail to act (likely), the question will then go to voters

In assessing the initiative’s redeeming qualities, let’s start with the obvious: Any acknowledgment that carbon emissions must be reduced — and that man-made climate change is a legitimate and dangerous phenomenon — is a step in the right direction.

A frustratingly small baby step, but a step nonetheless.

And, digging deeper, it would seem like the Carbon Washington plan has found an intriguing middle ground for getting there.

The initiative would inspire a reduction in carbon emissions through its $25-per-metric-ton tax on emissions from gasoline, natural gas and fossil fuels — targeting the filthiest of corporate polluters. It would then give that money back to taxpayers in the form of a cut in the state sales tax, a tax rebate for low-income families and a reduction of the business and occupation tax for manufacturers.

It’s being billed as revenue neutral (more on that in a moment), with the potential to earn the support of typically wary conservatives.

So everyone wins, right?

Not yet.

Perhaps predictably, lefties and environmentalists (two things I’m regularly accused of being) have not been kind to the I-732 effort, arguing that it’s a sham and doesn’t do enough to address the needs and concerns of communities disproportionately affected by climate change. Think low-income communities of color forced to live near sources of pollution or migrant farmworkers forced to deal with ever-increasing summer wildfires.

And these arguments hold up. Studies have shown that African Americans are far more likely to suffer from asthma and die from asthma-related causes than white people. And to no great surprise, the link from climate change to increasing rates of asthma continues to grow stronger.

Meanwhile, low-income African Americans and Latino populations are far more likely to live next to freeways or other sources of pollution. Take a look at the census tracts in Tacoma surrounding Interstate 5 if you’re skeptical.

So, in response to the I-732 push, a group known as the Alliance for Clean Energy and Jobs has floated the possibility of a competing initiative that, like Carbon Washington’s effort, would work to reduce carbon emissions by creating financial incentives to do so — in this case, imposing fees on Washington’s largest carbon emitters.

But instead of giving the money back to taxpayers, the Alliance’s plan would use carbon proceeds to fund programs rooted in social justice, helping the vulnerable, low-income, minority populations most affected by climate change.

It’s being billed as having a “broad coalition” of support. Succeeding where environmental activism of the past has often failed, significant work has been done to bring communities of color on board and into the fold.

As an Evergreen State College graduate and a known bleeding heart, perhaps you can predict which plan I’m inclined to like more.

Still, the reality is that some compromise — even on an issue as unfortunately partisan as climate change has become — will likely be needed.

While it’s conveniently easy to vilify the big business interests that fight against new environmental standards that might make doing business more difficult, Washington will continue to need the jobs provided by the private sector. And the private sector will continue to be reluctant to support efforts that make it out to be the bad guy.

Somehow, some way, we’ll need to work together.

I-732 looks far from perfect. For starters, as Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times reported this week, a recent analysis of the initiative called for by State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, and conducted by nonpartisan legislative staff, found that I-732 might not be as “revenue neutral” as it’s being advertised. If passed, the initiative might cost our state some $675 million over four years — math I-732’s backers firmly dispute. They’re not backing down.

Simultaneously, potential backers of an Alliance for Clean Energy and Jobs initiative are left to contemplate whether the strong likelihood of dueling carbon reduction initiatives on the 2016 ballot makes sense.

Who knows? Perhaps neither will be the solution Washington needs when it comes to carbon reduction.

Both, however, have at least one right idea: Bringing more people together to fight climate change — and appealing to populations that haven’t always been involved, or felt connected, to this important fight — is the only way to go.