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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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John Covert: Time to take bold climate action with Initiative 732

John Covert

Washington residents have the opportunity to take bold action on climate change by voting yes on a carbon tax swap, Initiative 732, on the ballot this fall.

I-732 reduces emissions by taxing carbon dioxide, the main form of global warming pollution, while making the tax system fairer and more sustainable. It uses the carbon tax revenue to reduce the sales tax and other taxes that hurt families and businesses.

The initiative cuts the sales tax by a penny per dollar, so everyone will pay less at the cash register. It lowers the business and occupation tax on manufacturers to help keep jobs in our state. And it funds a tax rebate for low-income working families who receive the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This will help 21 percent of Spokane households, who will be eligible for an extra 25 percent increase in their EITC. This proposal is the biggest improvement to Washington’s tax system in the past 40 years.

The opposition will try to scare you by saying I-732 will cost your family more. They are wrong. I-732 won’t increase taxes overall, but it will encourage individuals and businesses to reduce their use of fossil fuels. Many people will be better off; the climate and our air quality will be much better off.

The opposition will say that I-732 will cost the state millions of dollars in tax revenue. Not so. I-732 is designed to be “revenue-neutral,” with revenue from the carbon tax offset by reductions in existing taxes. One of the state’s most respected think tanks, Sightline Institute, released a thorough analysis of the initiative concluding: “I-732 is revenue-neutral, to the best of anyone’s ability to forecast it.”

They called an argument to the contrary a “red herring.”

The opposition wants you to believe that I-732 will hurt the economy and cost jobs, when, in fact, I-732 will create new jobs as we transition to more clean energy sources produced in our communities. The state’s Office of Financial Management projected that I-732 will increase total sales – meaning more jobs and a net increase in local tax revenue. For the agricultural sector, I-732 phases in the carbon tax over 40 years for on-farm diesel. Agro-economists at WSU recently concluded that a carbon tax modeled after I-732 would create a net economic benefit for the agricultural and forestry sectors.

Economists across the political spectrum agree that putting a price on carbon is the best way to reduce fossil fuel use. In 2008, British Columbia adopted a carbon tax similar to that proposed under I-732. Carbon emissions have dropped by 16 percent, and the economy of British Columbia is doing as well if not better than Canada as a whole.

The cost of doing nothing outweighs any cost of implementing I-732. The state’s own estimates show that climate change will cost billions of dollars by 2020 due to increased heat waves, droughts, wildfires, flooding, insect infestations and health care costs. If we don’t change our energy trajectory, these costs will skyrocket.

This moment demands courage. The climate change bells are ringing loud and clear. We are faced with a choice. We can get lost in battles over policy minutiae and forestall action even longer as climate change gets worse, or we can make a stand for clean energy for our children’s future. Act now to protect our climate, and vote yes on Initiative 732.

John Covert is a hydrogeologist with the Washington Department of Ecology. Opinions expressed are his own.