I-732 kowtows to polluters, disrespects communities of color

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We are stronger together
An advocate at a Dec. 29 demonstration against Initiative 732 in front of Carbon Washington’s Fremont office building. (Photo by Renotography)

We’ve heard this song and dance before.

The rehashed “Compassionate Conservatism” of the ’90s was a ploy to gut public funding. Reagan-era “Trickle-Down Economics” resulted in the most stratified income inequality in generations. And the “War on Drugs” was code for locking up people of color.

The latest weapon in the deceptive conservative arsenal is “revenue-neutral” carbon pricing, a proposal by the group Carbon Washington, whom, as of today, have gathered enough signatures to have this proposal appear on November’s general election ballot as Initiative 732.

If voted in, I-732 will have devastating, long-term consequences for our state.

As I-732 campaigners gathered signatures over the past year, a coalition of more than 150 labor, faith, environmental, social justice, racial equity, business and health groups in our state mobilized to put a price on carbon emissions melting polar ice caps at a rate that will wreak catastrophic havoc for generations to come.

With carbon pricing, the idea is that if your neighbor dumps toxic waste on your lawn, that neighbor at least should have to pay a fee for the impact that has on you and your lawn. (This fee would also incentivize your neighbor to not dump toxic waste on your lawn).

Right now, polluters in Washington need to pay for what they dump and emit into our neighborhoods, and account for the costs of those toxins on our health.

The group of 150 organizations hoping to put an alternative initiative on the ballot, Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, is crafting policy to guard our state against the trickle-down economics that have brought us to an unprecedented level of income inequality. This idea is that shifting away from fossil fuels and toward green energy will ensure no workers or communities are left behind.  

Our state can’t afford to lose any more jobs and revenue. According to an independent analysis, I-732 would cost the state $675 million over the next four years.

Then, there is the question  of whether the “revenue-neutral” version of carbon pricing would actually curb emissions. The centerpiece of I-732’s model is that revenue raised from carbon fees would be spent on tax cuts. But in British Columbia, we actually see that this type of carbon pricing policy has proven to be revenue negative, while emissions have increased.

As the Alliance developed its policy through a statewide listening tour of more than 10 cities and 20 locations, Carbon Washington developed its own carbon-pricing policy, ignoring the input of communities of color delivered to the group in meetings throughout the year.

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who was one of the signers of I-732, now believes that “turning in the signatures would do more damage than good.”

“CarbonWA — thanks for your leadership,” he said on a Facebook post Monday. “But please pause and join with the broader community in crafting an even stronger package with broad support from communities of color. We can get it right, and on the same timeline.”

Ultimately, he says, “this effort falls short in creating a carbon pricing system that is equitable.”

So who is I-732 ultimately serving? In a letter to the oil industry, Yoram Bauman, the founder of Carbon Washington, made the argument that — because demand from consumers who are dependent on gasoline is relatively inelastic to price increases — I-732 would “not fundamentally transform your industry.”

Considerable business tax breaks would cancel out any tax “on certain fossil fuels” in the oil industry.

Sorry, Mr. Oil Man, but the vision of a truly green economy is to fundamentally change business. In his pursuit of getting polluters to buy into carbon pricing, Bauman loses sight of this basic principle.

And he hasn’t been shy about expressing how he feels about those fighting for racial, social and environmental justice on the left, as he explains in The New York Times:

“I am increasingly convinced that the path to climate action is through the Republican Party. Yes, there are challenges on the right — skepticism about climate science and about tax reform — but those are surmountable with time and effort. The same cannot be said of the challenges on the left: an unyielding desire to tie everything to bigger government, and a willingness to use race and class as political weapons in order to pursue that desire.”

What’s worse is that advocates of a “revenue-neutral” approach are carrying the social justice mantle. This is a slap in the face to communities of color working with groups across the state for environmental equity.

Once I-732 is on the ballot, Washington voters have an opportunity to vote these indignities out and reject a system that would allow polluters to continue getting away with dirtying our state without ultimately paying the cost.

The views expressed here are of the writer and not necessarily of The Seattle Globalist. Though the writer is employed with Alliance for a Just Society, an organization that is part of Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, this op-ed is a reflection of the writer’s views as an individual only and was not authored on behalf of his organization or the coalition it belongs to. 

This story has been updated since its original publication for clarification and accuracy. Though group members of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy are planning to put together an alternative proposal to I-732, the whole group had not officially declared opposition to Carbon Washington’s initiative at the time of publication. The original story inaccurately described the Alliance as a whole coalition in opposition to I-732. Due to an editor’s error, the story also inaccurately stated that I-732 would appear on the primary election ballot. I-732 will be appear on the November general election ballot.

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