Gov. Inslee Wants To Cap And Tax Emissions From Washington State’s Major Polluters

CREDIT: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference as he stands with state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson and construction workers Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, in Medina, Wash.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has big plans for carbon reductions in his state, as outlined in climate change and transportation proposals announced by the governor’s office this week.

On Tuesday, Inslee announced a proposed tax on the carbon emissions for Washington’s major polluters. The proposal, which is part of Inslee’s transportation plan, would force major polluters in the state’s oil and gas industry to pay for the carbon they emit. The revenue gathered from the carbon tax, according to Inslee’s office, would total about $4.8 billion over the next 12 years — about the same amount as would be raised by a 12-cent increase in the state’s gas tax.

As part of the plan, the state’s major polluters — the “relatively small number of businesses” that, according to the governor’s office, are responsible for 85 percent of the state’s emissions — would have their emissions capped. Over time, that cap will be lowered, as a way to prod the businesses to transition to cleaner, more efficient energy sources.

While some of the revenue from the carbon tax would go toward maintaining roads, it would also be used for transportation-related sustainability initiatives in the state, including grants for transit systems and incentives for electric cars. Other transportation projects in the state, such as highway and ferry updates, would be mainly paid for by sources such as gas taxes, tolls and vehicle fees.

“There is a good way, instead of just using taxes to build a bridge, why not use a charge on pollution to build not only a bridge, but also clean air so kids can breathe. You get a twofer,” Inslee said last week, before the proposal was formally announced. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

The incentives slated to be paid for by the carbon tax would increase under the governor’s climate change plan, which he unveiled on Wednesday. Inslee is calling for legislation that would extend electric vehicle incentives and increase the number of high-speed electric vehicle charging stations in the state. In addition, Inslee is asking the state’s Department of Ecology to draft a new standard for clean fuel. Inslee is also seeking to increase funding for research on renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.

“I believe it’s our destiny to lead in clean energy. Washington may be less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the world’s population, but we’re number one in the world in software, in aerospace, in apples, in online retailing,” Inslee said in a statement Wednesday. “We can choose cleaner air, more efficient cars and a better transportation system. We can choose energy independence. We have a choice in our future, and we’re choosing to take action.”

These proposals aren’t yet a done deal: they’ll be introduced to the state’s legislature in 2015. But if they are approved, they would serve as a step toward Washington’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The proposals follow a April 2014 executive order by Gov. Inslee to reduce the state’s carbon emissions and increase its use of renewable energy.

The proposed carbon tax comes the same week as a poll found that 54 percent of Washington’s businesses would support a tax on carbon if it was offset by lower sales and business taxes.