EDITORIAL | Voters should support carbon tax initiative

Friday is Earth Day, but the most important day for the environment in Washington state might be election day.

Last year, thousands of volunteers, including many on Whidbey Island, gathered more than 250,000 signatures to get Initiative 732 on the ballot. If voters pass it this fall, it will make Washington the first state to tax carbon. It’s the right way to limit carbon pollution — in a political compromise.

I-732 is not your typical cap-and-trade proposal, evidenced by the mixed reception from environmental groups. It’s meant to be a bipartisan proposal. Carbon producers will be taxed, but the measure provides tax relief to both consumers and businesses. Under the proposal, carbon pollution would be taxed at $25 for every ton of carbon dioxide released each year. That revenue would allow a 1 percent reduction of state sales tax. Manufacturing businesses would receive a business-and-occupation tax exemption roughly equivalent to their carbon tax. Low-income working families would receive a tax rebate to help with any increase in energy costs.

It’s considered a tax swap. The measure is supposed to remain revenue neutral as the carbon tax rate is slowly raised over the years. The end result, proponents say, is that businesses and the general public will significantly reduce their carbon output because they have a financial motive to do so.

Some of the biggest arguments against legislative efforts to limit carbon emissions is that they will hurt the economy, hurt consumers or grow “big government.”

The initiative responds to those concerns by cutting the sales tax, which should be good for the economy and the consumers’ pocketbooks. It helps manufacturing businesses by providing exemptions from the dreaded B&O tax. And it helps the working poor, who are the most affected by rising energy prices. Some environmental and Democratic groups aren’t thrilled with the initiative because they would like to see the revenue spent elsewhere, such as in the development of green energy. But those groups should consider the benefits of the initiative, which include the fact that it makes the state’s tax structure a little less regressive.

And that it might actually pass.

Oak Harbor resident Bob Hallahan, a Navy veteran who flew EA-6Bs in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the leader of the Whidbey Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. The group’s goal is to get a carbon fee and dividend passed on the federal level. Instead of a tax break, the federal proposal is to distribute the carbon tax revenue to taxpayers in the form of checks, thereby spurring spending and the economy.

Hallahan said the group supports the state measure, which members hope will help get the ball rolling toward a federal solution.

Climate change, many agree, is the greatest problem facing the world. It’s especially relevant to those who live on an island. Sea level rise, higher temperatures, more powerful storms and ocean acidification are serious problems.

Initiative 732 won’t be pain-free, but it’s a good start to addressing a global problem.