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I-1631 carbon fee, climate change, youth climate strike
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A climatologist’s argument against I-1631’s carbon fee

Initiative 1631, to appear on the upcoming November ballot, aims to impose a fee on carbon polluters in the state while taking action against climate change.

But if you truly care about climate change, and doing something about it, then you should reject I-1631, according to one Seattle climate scientist.

“I think it’s a very bad idea,” University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Professor Cliff Mass said. “I think that anybody who is concerned about climate change should vote against 1631. It has a lot of very major flaws.”

It’s perhaps an unexpected argument against a solution to climate change from a climate expert fully aware of the consequences of a warming planet. But Mass argues that in order to make a difference regarding climate change, the entire nation needs to be on board. I-1631 is written in a way that will be extremely partisan, Mass says. As such, it will never be looked to as a model for the rest of America.

“It is a written by a very narrow group of people, mainly people on the environmental left,” Mass said. “There’s no way that this could ever move to the rest of the country. We had a chance before with I-732, which was a revenue neutral carbon tax, and could have been bipartisan. But 1631 is so partisan, it will never serve as a model for the rest of the country. That is a problem right there.”

“Another problem is the carbon fee is it is way too low; it’s half of what 732 was,” he added. “So it’s not going to have a major impact. It’s also extremely regressive. The money isn’t given back; it’s used for special projects. So people with lower income will be the worst hit by this.”

Mass goes on to say that the proposal has the revenue managed by an un-elected body.

The initiative targets most carbon polluters in the state. I-1631 proposes to place a $15 fee per metric ton of carbon, starting in 2020. That fee will increase by $2 every year after that. The revenue would benefit environmental programs related to climate change. Critics have argued that it will cause higher costs for consumers.

I-1631 debate

Washington may get to see how I-1631’s carbon fee will work out. According to Crosscut, half of voters it polled were in favor of I-1631, and 14 percent were undecided. That’s far from any assurance the initiative will pass, but it is a higher approval rating than other carbon fee attempts. Crosscut notes that support for the initiative is higher than support for I-732, which Mass references. That initiative failed two years ago.

Prominent local figures have also come out in support of I-1631, such as Bill Gates, who authored a LinkedIn post arguing for its passage. Gates says I-1631 will encourage a clean energy business environment; provide a “market signal” to businesses contributing to climate change; and it will help other forms of energy flourish, such as hydropower and nuclear power.

Still, Mass says that the initiative’s flaws are too great to overcome. He strongly urges the state to pass a bipartisan, revenue neutral carbon fee.

“You tax carbon to change what people do, but give the money back to them,” Mass said. “You drop the sales tax or something like that. So people won’t be out of money, they just spend it differently.

“Another approach is that if you have a carbon fee, put the money where it is needed,” he added. “Right now, the money is thrown to this board and God knows what they spend it on. There are things that we really need. We need to fix our forests, thin them out. We need better mass transit. There are a lot of things we can do that will be helpful in a warming world. If the money was hardwired into these positive things, it would make it a lot more attractive.”

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