Washington state rejects carbon tax

The measure would have put a price on carbon and used the revenue to cut taxes elsewhere.

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

Voters in Washington state chose to reject an initiative that would have been the nation’s first tax on carbon pollution from fossil fuels. Initiative 732, which had drawn criticism from both liberal environmentalists and fossil fuel companies, managed to draw just 42 percent of the vote in a state largely lauded for its progressive approach to environmental policy.

“The decisive loss tonight of I-732 demonstrates that without a broad coalition in support, the fossil fuel industry can easily defeat climate efforts,” the Washington Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, which opposed the measure for months, said in a statement released Wednesday morning.

“We should all be proud that Washington state is talking about solutions to climate change — not whether it’s real. We look forward to working with all communities and stakeholders, including I-732’s supporters, to put in place a solution that works for Washington and serves as a strong example for other states.”

Since the initiative was first proposed, traditionally liberal environmental groups — the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, which formed as a kind of juggernaut organization advocating for social and environmental justice, the Washington Environmental Council, the Sierra Club — refused to support the tax, arguing that it did not do enough to hasten the transition to a green economy and did not take into account the needs and wants of traditionally marginalized communities. In the weeks before the election, the initiative also drew fire from fossil fuel interests, which gave upwards of $500,000 to defeat it.

The proponents behind 732 argued that the initiative was not a perfect solution to climate change — but that the tax, which would have levied a $25 per ton price on carbon emissions from fossil fuels, and used that revenue to cut Washington’s sales tax, businesses and manufacturing tax, and fund a tax rebate for working families, would have gone a long way to jumpstart climate action in the state and make the state’s regressive tax code more fair.

“While we did not pass the nation’s first carbon tax, many states around the country are looking at I-732 as a model and we expect a nationwide movement to take root in the years ahead,” Yoram Bauman, founder and co-chair of Carbon Washington, the group behind I-732, said in a statement. “We will look back at this as a lost opportunity to create history in Washington State, but also as a catalyst for much needed U.S. leadership on climate action.”