Whidbey climate warriors lobby for carbon tax

They’re a small group on Whidbey Island but they are dedicated.

The very future of the planet is at risk, they fear.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby, including the Whidbey Island Chapter, is different from many other groups that advocate for environmental policy. The group works towards one very specific goal that was tailored to be bipartisan and to grow the economy.

It’s called a carbon fee and dividend.

Bob Hallahan, Oak Harbor resident and chapter leader, explains that the concept is to put a price on carbon pollution and to return the revenue to taxpayers to offset any increase in energy costs.

“It’s considered to be a very conservative approach,” he said, pointing out that the proposal doesn’t increase the size of government.

Under the proposal, companies that create carbon emissions that are warming the planet would pay a fee. The money is then distributed to taxpayers, who will get checks in the mail. People will spend the money and spark the economy.

Studies show that about 60 percent of households will be better off financially under the proposal, according to Steve Rothboeck, a volunteer with the group and a retired planner from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The end result is that companies will have a financial incentive to find ways to release less greenhouse gases.

The Citizen’s Climate Lobby’s ultimate goal is to pass a carbon fee and dividend bill on the federal level, but the members are also trying to pass a similar measure in Washington State with hopes that the idea will spread.

Initiative 732 will be on the ballot this fall. It’s considered a “revenue neutral tax swap,” Hallahan said, but its controversial even among environmentalists.

Under the initiative, carbon producers will pay a tax per ton of carbon emitted. In exchange, the state sales tax will be cut by 1 percent and companies will receive a business-and-occupation tax exemption.

Some environmental and Democratic groups are against it because they would like to see the revenue used in other ways, such as in the development of clean energy. But Hallahan said this approach is more likely to be embraced by drawing support from both conservatives and progressives. And that means it’s more likely to become reality.

They’re currently 22 members of the Whidbey Island Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Chapters of the national group are popping up at a rapid rate, with the goal of at least one chapter for every congressional district.

It’s called a “citizens’ lobby” for a reason. The members work hard to inform and persuade everyone from local residents to members of Congress. Members of the group regularly speak to organizations, classes and stakeholders. Hallahan has flown to Washington D.C. to speak with lawmakers.

Climate change is very serious business to the members of the group.

The science is clear, Rothboeck said. He points to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which predicts average temperatures to increase by 10 degrees by the end of the century. That translates to more wild fires, less snowpack, ocean acidification and rising sea levels.

Tony Billera, a Clinton resident and volunteer, said a new study predicts the health impacts of global warming to be devastating. Asthma in children, for example, will increase.

“The people most affected will be people of color, the very young, the elderly and the poor,” he said.