Washington May Become The First State To Charge Companies For Carbon Emissions

If passed on Nov. 6, a new measure would require companies to pay a fee for their carbon emissions.

Election Day could mark a significant step forward for the state of Washington in the battle against climate change. There's a statewide initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot that, if passed, would make Washington the first state to charge for the carbon emissionthat contribute to global warming.

The measure, known as Initiative 1631, would require companies to pay $15 a ton for carbon emissions beginning in 2020. The fee would then increase $2 a ton a year until 2035. If adopted, the fees could provide the state with up to $1 billion in annual revenue by 2023 to fund governmental programs related to climate change. Perhaps even more importantly, it would potentially jumpstart a national conversation about to staunch greenhouse gases, a move considered by most scientists to be essential to fighting global warming.

According to the Seattle Times, a coalition of environmental, labor, and social justice groups developed the initiative. Should it move forward, a 15-person board consisting of state officials and members of the public appointed by the governor would be responsible for deterring how the revenue from the fees is invested. The carbon charges are purposely being labeled "fees" rather than "taxes" in order to prevent the state legislature from diverting the earnings to other projects.

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"If something is a fee, it makes it much more difficult for the legislature to use the money raised for things not directly related to what it's supposed to do," Gregg Small, executive director of Climate Solutions, told The Washington Post.

Per the Post, about 70 percent of the revenue is earmarked for investment in renewable energy and clean air, while 25 percent would be for water and forests and the remaining five would go to local communities. The new measure could potentially provide funding for climate education programs, building solar and wind farms, restoring forests and other environmentally conscious practices.

The measure has received backing from certain environmental groups and business leaders. The Clean Air Clean Energy coalition to say "yes" on the ballot has raised moire than $15 million , including $1 million each from Gates and former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Several oil companies in the Western States Petroleum Association, like Koch Industries, have given more than $31 million.

Though supporters say the initiative could allow the state to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% by 2035, the measure also has earned a more skeptic response from others. Some environmentalists claim the carbon charge outlined in Initiative 1631 isn't high enough. Meanwhile, oil companies argue that climate change should be addressed at national and international levels and that state-level policy will do little other than slightly raise gas prices.

As of now, it remains a toss-up whether the measure will be passed. If it is voted through on Nov. 6, Washington would be the first state to approve carbon pricing through an election. Win or lose, the effort will likely play a key factor in shaping the national discussion on the price of carbon.  

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