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Initiative 732, I-732, carbon tax, carbon fee, climate change, cap-and-invest
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Gov. Inslee’s cap-and-invest proposal draws criticism from environmentalists

The Tesoro Corp. refinery, in Anacortes, Wash. Gas flares like this are part of normal plant operations. (AP)

A climate change proposal from the governor that would establish a cap-and-invest system in Washington is drawing questions and critiques — even from environmental advocates.

Senate Bill 5126, also known as the Washington Climate Commitment Act, would create a cap-and-invest system that limits fossil fuel emissions for large companies by capping pollution amounts and requiring polluters to buy allowances to pollute. Revenue from the sale of these allowances would be invested into green energy and other climate efforts.

“A well-designed cap-and-invest program is the most widely used program in the world, and we’ve learned the lessons of others, and we’ve listened and thought about it a great deal relative to the applicability of Washington state,” said Senator Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), one of the bill’s sponsors, during a committee hearing on the bill this week.

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In addition to starting the cap-and-invest system by 2023, the bill would establish a Climate Task Force, climate commitment program, and an Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Panel specifically for the cap-and-invest program.

Proponents who gave testimony said that market-based solutions like a cap-and-invest system are a great way to bridge the gap between climate progress and economic concerns.

“If we really want to halve emissions by 2030, this bill is our best chance,” said Sarah Severn with the Low Carbon Prosperity Institute. “It will make our economy stronger, our residents healthier, our state more competitive, and our businesses more innovative and resilient.”

However, despite the fact that the program would set a cap for carbon emissions, opponents worry that it would simply allow large companies to buy their way out of making any real changes. Some pointed to the fact that British Petroleum spoke in support of the bill at the hearing.

“Cap-and-trade policies are set up to benefit corporations that are the biggest contributors to global warming and our climate crisis,” said Iris Antman with climate advocacy group 350 Seattle. “These corporations would pay a price that is far too low, and then would be allowed to continue polluting.”

Some also referenced the racial justice side of the issue. According to a 2018 EPA study, communities of color are most likely to live near large polluters such as refineries or factories, and be negatively impacted by those emissions.

“Growing up next to the Nucor Steel Factory [in West Seattle], I had to live with smokestacks outside my window, my family and neighbors dying from cancer and having heart disease, and many suffering from asthma,” said Jill Mangaliman, director of environmental advocacy group Got Green. “This is not a philosophy, but a reality for our impacted communities of color.”

Nucor Seattle says its factory does not have smokestacks, as its operations primarily give off steam.

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