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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: I-732 promises politics-neutral carbon tax solution for Washington

And so Washington begins the long, laborious and possibly litigious process of attempting to slow the effects of climate change.

At the behest of Gov. Jay Inslee, the Department of Ecology has begun rule writing on a plan to cap the carbon emissions from large producers, which include natural gas distributors, petroleum fuel producers, power plants, waste facilities and metal manufacturers.

The Legislature set emission-reduction targets in 2008, but has done nothing to attain them. So Inslee is taking executive action, which critics say is beyond the scope of the governor’s powers. Litigation may spring from that dispute.

Furthermore, Senate Republicans say the carbon caps and associated fines will drive up utility and gasoline bills, and could drive energy-intensive businesses out of the state.

Because Inslee is acting alone, this is sure to be a divisive issue. He is right to take climate change seriously, and his Republican counterparts ought to acknowledge the big picture, not just the potential problems associated with solutions.

It would, of course, be better if Congress took the lead, but the issue is caught in the same quicksand that seems to swallow all proposals these days. States are often the laboratories of change − marijuana legalization, for example − and that’s likely to occur with climate solutions, too.

Still, Inslee’s plan is too narrowly focused on a couple dozen businesses. We’re all responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, so a broad-based strategy would be more equitable and more efficient. And if it had a component that softened the blow for energy-intensive businesses, all the better.

If we don’t put a price on the long-term external costs of carbon, we’ll never limit greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, alternatives to fossil fuels will struggle to compete.

This is why a carbon tax makes a lot of sense, especially the revenue-neutral plan touted by CarbonWA, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization that is well on its way to gathering enough signatures for an initiative to the Legislature.

Under Initiative 732, gasoline and electricity from coal and natural gas would be taxed. Initially, the gas tax would be about 25 cents a gallon. Energy from clean sources − hydropower, wind, solar, biodiesel − would not be assessed. All tax proceeds would go to the general fund.

To offset the carbon tax, the sales tax would be lowered by 1 percentage point. Plus, the B&O tax on manufacturing would be reduced, which would offer relief for energy-intensive industries. A tax credit would be available for low-income households.

The plan is modeled on the so-far-successful carbon tax in British Columbia.

Along with being revenue neutral, the plan can be viewed as politically neutral. Democrats get action on climate change but they don’t get more revenue for other issues. Republicans can say taxes haven’t increased overall. And if they doubt the science of climate change, no great harm should come from taxing carbon more and other transactions less.

If nothing else, I-732 gives us a different way to look at solutions to a complex issue. We’re getting nowhere in the current political rut.

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