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March 2, 2018
Another ambitious effort to pass a carbon tax in Washington state has faltered as both Gov. Jay Inslee and the bill's prime sponsor said Thursday that there weren't enough votes to pass the measure out of the state Senate.
Washington would have been the first U.S. state to impose a straight tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels like gasoline and electricity and the legislation has been closely watched nationally.
But Inslee told The Associated Press Thursday they were still “one or two votes shy” of passing it out of the Democrat-controlled Senate. The bill also needed to clear the House, also controlled by Democrats, before the short 60-day legislative session ends March 8.
“I would consider this a sea change in the climate fight. It's come a long way from where we've been. We've basically shown that carbon policy is within reach,” said the Democratic governor. He noted the bill cleared key policy and fiscal committees — advancing farther than previous measures — but didn't have the votes to bring it to a floor vote.
“On the arc of history, we're not quite far along enough on the arc,” Inslee said. “That day will come but it wasn't quite here yet.”
The bill's sponsor Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, said in coming years, “we're going to see a price on carbon in this state.”
Washington state has been on the forefront of policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.
A coalition of environmental, tribal and other groups have vowed to bring a carbon initiative to the ballot in November should the Legislature fail to act.
Barry Rabe, a professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, said if the bill is defeated it underscores “that political support for a carbon tax does remain one of the heaviest lifts in American politics.”
“Even in a state like Washington where you have a governor who is enthusiastically in favor, a Legislature that seems to lean to the idea, this proves difficult to do at least at this point,” he said.
Washington voters rejected a carbon tax initiative in 2016, with many major environmental groups surprisingly lining up against the bill partly over disagreements about how money raised would be spent.
Senate Bill 6023 would have imposed a new tax of $12 per metric ton of carbon emissions on the sale or use of fossil fuels such as gasoline and natural gas.
The tax would have started in 2019 and in 2021 would have increased $1.80 per ton each year until it hit $30 a ton. The tax was projected to raise $766 million in the first two years.
Businesses such as REI and Microsoft Corp. voiced support for the measure. But other business groups, lawmakers and critics called it an energy tax that would be paid mostly by families and those who could least afford it. They criticized the numerous exemptions in the bill.
In 2020, the carbon tax would mean a 10 cent hike in gasoline prices, or nearly 4 percent higher than it otherwise would be, according to legislative analysts.
Todd Myers with the Washington Policy Center said the bill would not achieve the promised carbon reductions. He said too much money goes to carve outs, special interests and expensive projects that won't actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions as promised.
“I don't think that the failure to pass this year is going to stop other states,” said Charles Komanoff, who directs the New York-based Carbon Tax Center.
Carbon-pricing bills have been introduced in states, including Massachusetts, Oregon, New York and Rhode Island, but none have advanced as far as in Washington, experts noted.
Inslee said several bills are still pending in the Legislature that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including one that moves the state's electrical grid away from fossil fuels and another that sets higher targets for reducing carbon pollution.