Cliff Mass answers arguments against I-732

Nov 5, 2016, 1:23 AM
Initiative 732, I-732, carbon tax, carbon fee, climate change, cap-and-invest, climate...
The Tesoro Corp. refinery, in Anacortes, Wash. Gas flares like this are part of normal plant operations. (AP)
LISTEN: Cliff Mass answers arguments against I-732

University of Washington Atmospheric Scientist Cliff Mass sometimes strays away from the world of weather into policy and politics. And sometimes, those two interests overlap, which is why the scientist is vocal about his support of I-732.

“In some respects this will be the most important change to the tax system in Washington state in 50 years,” Mass told Seattle’s Morning News.

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But Initiative 732 is about far more than a switch up to Washington’s tax system. It places a tax on carbon producers in the state. It’s an echo of similar Canadian legislation from neighboring British Columbia. If it passes this month it will make Washington the first state in America to impose a carbon tax. I-732 proposes a tax of $15 per metric ton of carbon emissions by July 2017. That tax goes up to $25 a year later. The tax raises by 3.5 percent — plus inflation — in the following years until it reaches $100 per metric ton.

I-732 is designed to be carbon neutral — while raising taxes on carbon-related activities, it will drop the state sales tax and other costs.

“We take money from you at the gas pump, but we give it back to you with less sales tax and rebates for low-income families,” Mass said.

But it will affect more than just the gas pump, it will tax industries that contribute to carbon pollution. For example, Kaiser Aluminum has been among the top opponents to the initiative. It would be among businesses that will pay the tax because of their carbon production. Puget Sound Energy has also put money toward the “No on I-732” effort as a little over a third of its energy productions comes from fossil fuels, the Seattle Times reports.

Environmentalist vs. I-732

I-732 aims to curb carbon emissions that contribute to climate change that coming generations are expected to experience. But some environmental groups have opposed the tax. Mass argues that they are more worried about the financial aspect of the initiative, instead of focusing on the positive environmental goals.

“The whole issue is about the revenue neutrality,” Mass argued. “Virtually all environment groups and social and climate justice groups support the carbon tax … it’s the question of revenue neutrality. They want the money to go into the state coffers — to go into jobs, energy projects, things like that. It’s the revenue neutrality that these left-leaning groups are against.”

Another argument is that the tax in Canada hasn’t affected carbon production in British Columbia. And also, some say if you place a tax on carbon producing businesses, it will hurt the economy. Mass disagrees.

“It’s clear that increasing the price of something like carbon, like gasoline, is going to decrease the usage of it,” he said. “If you want to prove that, it’s very easy. Look at sales of hybrid and electric cars and prop that up against gas prices. When gas prices went up, people were buying hybrid and electric cars. When it went down, the opposite happened.”

“If you look at BC carefully, you’ll see their carbon-use dropped relative to Canada, even though their economy did well,” Mass added.

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Cliff Mass answers arguments against I-732