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Todd Myers: Dishonesty or incompetence, either way we can’t trust what we are told on state climate policy

Todd Myers

By Todd Myers

After claiming that his climate tax wouldn’t increase gas prices, Gov. Jay Inslee now says he was misled by Department of Ecology staff who “did the best jobs they could,” but missed the mark badly.

The governor made these comments as he announced the broad strokes of his 2024 climate agenda in a news conference where he promised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue on a wide range of new government programs and subsidies.

But should the public trust the governor’s word on the promise or the price of his new policies?

His remarkably dishonest answers on the price impact of his climate tax advise against it.

When asked by a reporter about the governor’s repeated claim that the impact of the state’s tax on CO2, known as the Climate Commitment Act, would be “only pennies,” the governor had a series of excuses.

First, the governor said he was not responsible for the claim that the climate tax would cost only pennies on the gallon.

Noting that the governor has claimed the impact would be pennies, the reporter asked, “How did you come to pennies on the gallon?”

The governor quickly replied, “I did not,” indicating that he wasn’t responsible for the estimate or for his own words.

Furthermore, when he signed the climate tax and the low-carbon fuel standard into law on May 17, 2021, Inslee said, “Don’t let anyone give you that swill that somehow it’s going to increase prices.”

The governor made a clear prediction that his climate policies wouldn’t increase prices at all.

Second, the governor claimed the error in the price projection was the fault of the staff at the Department of Ecology.

He said, “There was an assessment done by agencies that looked at what had been done in the California cap-and-trade system. … They did the best job they could to try to predict what would happen.”

This is nonsense.

It is telling that the governor thinks this badly inaccurate projection is the best the Ecology staff can do.

If that is the case, why would anyone believe the Ecology staff with future predictions about the impact of state policy?

The reality is that Ecology rejected California’s calculation for estimating the impact on gas prices.

Instead, it applied the results of an econometric model from McKinsey and Vivid Economics that has turned out to be completely inaccurate. Ecology subsequently removed those inaccurate previous projections from its Web page.

They should have used the same approach used by California agencies, like the Washington Policy Center did.

In 2016, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office noted, “We assume that retail gasoline prices increase by 8 cents to 9 cents per gallon and diesel prices increase by about 10 cents per gallon for every $10 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent that an allowance costs.”

Ecology’s own study showed an estimated cost for allowances of $58 per metric ton. By California’s estimates, that amounts to 46 cents per gallon of gasoline.

Instead, Ecology ignored that experience and predicted the impact would be about 5 cents per gallon.

The governor then falsely claimed, “Our experience has been somewhat different than California’s.”

As I wrote last December when we predicted that the climate tax would significantly increase prices, “We assume the tax will be passed on to consumers. This is the experience in California and in Washington state with gas tax increases.”

That is exactly what has happened.

Finally, the main theme of the news conference and likely the upcoming legislative session is to blame oil companies for the price increases.

In back-to-back sentences, the governor claimed the oil companies were needlessly raising gasoline prices and then pointed out that gas prices have declined by 70 cents per gallon since the summer.

If oil companies control prices, why would they allow prices to go down? The governor cannot have it both ways.

Having spent the last three years claiming his climate tax wouldn’t raise prices, the governor knows he can’t admit he was wrong or being dishonest.

So, he now claims that he was misled by his own agency staff who weren’t capable of anything better.

Whether the governor and Ecology staff were dishonest or just incompetent, Washingtonians should have learned they can’t trust what they are being told about the state’s climate policy.

Todd Myers is director of Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center. He’s based in Cle Elum, Washington.