Initiative 1631: Carbon Emissions Fee Measure

This measure is more than just a number.

By Jeremy Burnham, Managing Editor

Residents of Washington have likely heard of Initiative 1631. The bill is both supported and opposed by very well-funded organizations. This means plenty of ads have been running in the state in both directions. One side says the bill will reduce pollution. The other side says it raise gas and power prices. But what does the bill actually do?

Simply put, 1631 would charge a carbon fee to polluters in the state of Washington. The aim of the bill is to give companies that pollute an incentive to pollute less, and to raise money for anti-pollution projects. This could very well lead to less emissions produced, but could also lead to higher power bills when companies pass on the cost to consumers. So, in a sense, both sides are right.

The bill is similar to a bill that voters recently rejected, but is different in one key area. The rejected bill charged a carbon tax, while the new bill charges a carbon fee. This change means the money raised from the fee can be put into a fund for specific projects instead of the state’s general fund.

The fund would be overseen by a committee appointed by the governor. Opponents point out that this would be an unelected panel controlling a very large amount of money, and that the board would not answer to voters. Proponents point out that because the voters elect the governor and the governor appoints the board, voters’ voices would still be heard.

The bill is endorsed by several newspaper editorial boards, including The Olympian and The News Tribune.

“We think our Legislature is more apt to fix accountability flaws, if I-1631 passes, than the oil industry is going to help reduce carbon emissions, if I-1631 fails,” The Olympian’s editorial board wrote on Oct. 12.

Other editorial boards, including the Seattle Times and The Spokesman-Review, oppose the bill.

“Proponents say the tax—which they refer to as a fee, of course—would generate $2.3 billion in its first five years,” the Spokesman-Review’s editorial board wrote on Oct. 23. “But who do voters think that $2.3 billion will be generated by? They should look in the mirror.”

The campaign for the bill is funded mainly by environmental groups across the state and individuals. The campaign against is funded mostly by out-of-state oil companies.