Fossil fuel interests spend big to defeat Washington carbon tax

Washington state’s carbon tax is doing better in the polls — and fossil fuel interests have taken notice.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
CREDIT: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

With just over a week until Election Day, the only statewide carbon tax on the ballot is pulling slightly ahead in the polls — and fossil fuel and manufacturing interests have taken notice.

Two recent polls out of Washington state show Initiative 732— which would put a revenue-neutral price on carbon emissions from fossil fuels — polling ahead with voters, with the share of undecided voters declining. That’s a marked improvement from a few months ago, when polls showed the initiative trailing (but only by a few points) and a third of voters undecided.

“The more people hear about I-732 the more they like it, and they’re hearing about it more and more,” Yoram Bauman, author of the initiative and founder of the group CarbonWA, told ThinkProgress. Bauman pointed to a rush of media attention, op-eds, and celebrity endorsements (Leonardo DiCaprio recently endorsed the initiative on Twitter) as the driving force behind the measure’s growing support.

But increased visibility spurs increased opposition. Fossil fuel and manufacturing interests — which until now had largely remained on the sidelines of the debate — are pouring money into the opposition campaign: In the last week, fossil fuel and manufacturing interests have given more than $450,000 to the opposition campaign, sponsored by the Association of Washington Business.

The three largest donations have come from the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a D.C.-based trade association that gave $250,000; Puget Sound Energy, a Washington-based utility company that gave $100,000; and Kaiser Aluminum, a California-based manufacturing company with plants in Washington, which also gave $100,000.

“The new donations effectively double the amount of money raised by the opposition campaign.”

Until recently, the debate over Initiative 732, had largely been dominated by infighting among environmental and climate groups (the Sierra Club and Washington Environmental Council have both chosen not to support the bill). Before the donation from the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, the opposition campaign had raised just under $400,000 dollars — and companies like Puget Sound Energy and Kaiser Aluminium had donated just $25,000 and $50,000 respectively. The new donations effectively double the amount of money raised by the opposition campaign.

There are still a few companies and trade groups that have not donated heavily to the opposition campaign, most notably the Western Petroleum Marketers Association, a Northwest-based trade group representing oil and gas marketers, that has only donated $30,000 to the opposition thus far. The Western States Petroleum Association, a Northwest-based trade group that represents refineries in the region, has donated nothing to the opposition campaign.

Still, the influx of fossil fuel and manufacturing money has proponents of the carbon tax focused on redoubling their grassroots campaign efforts in the week to come.

“They wouldn’t be spending big money to defend the fossil fuel status quo if they didn’t think it could have an impact,” Bauman said. “There are still a lot of undecided voters out there and the election’s not over for another eight days.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post referred to the Western Petroleum Marketers Association as a trade group representing Northwest oil refineries. That is the Western States Petroleum Association. ThinkProgress regrets the error.