Voters reject carbon fee, OK ban on local soda taxes
SEATTLE — Washington state voters rejected the nation’s first tax on carbon emissions in the costliest initiative fight in state history. And they approved a ballot measure to block local governments from imposing new taxes on soda or grocery items.
With more than two million votes counted Wednesday, 56 percent of voters rejected Initiative 1631, the carbon pollution fee that was closely watched nationwide.
The measure would have charged large emitters an escalating fee starting at $15 per metric ton of emissions based on the carbon content of fossil fuels used or sold in the state or electricity generated within the state.
An estimated $2.3 billion in the first five years would have funded a range of programs aimed at cutting carbon pollution.
Many experts said passage would show that states could take the lead on climate action even if the Trump administration doesn’t.
The oil industry outspent carbon-fee supporters by 2-to-1. Oil companies led by BP America and Phillips 66 contributed most of $31 million raised in opposition. Opponents said the measure as an energy tax that would hurt consumers. Supporters raised about $15 million.
Dana Bieber, spokeswoman with the No on 1631 campaign, declared victory Tuesday night for “working families, consumers, small businesses and family farmers.” She called the carbon fee an “costly, unfair and ineffective energy tax
A coalition of tribes and environmental, community, labor and other groups collected more than 260,000 valid signatures to put the measure on the ballot. Proponents said polluters who release carbon emissions responsible for global warming should pay to address its impacts.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and actor Leonardo DiCaprio supported the measure while Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg each gave $1 million.
Nick Abraham, a spokesman for the Yes on 1631 campaign, said Wednesday afternoon that the coalition wants to move forward on climate action and may look to the legislative process.
“We simply cannot quit the fight. This was a setback,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation, who worked with other Native American tribes to push the measure. She accused oil companies of hijacking the democratic process with record spending.
The election also saw big industry spending on other ballot measures including Initiative 1634, backed by the soda industry. The beverage industry targeted Washington state as part of a nationwide effort to stop the expansion of taxes on soda.
I-1634 prohibits cities and counties from taxing soda or food products. The measure would not prevent the state Legislature from imposing taxes. Seattle’s tax on soda and sugary beverages, approved last year, will remain in effect but can’t be expanded.
The campaign sponsored by the American Beverage Association spent more than $20 million to pass it. The industry earlier won bans on new, local soda taxes in California, Arizona and Michigan. Opponents raised about $33,000.
Proponents said the tax hurts small businesses and working people.
In 2016, 59 percent of Washington state voters rejected a carbon tax that proposed using revenues to lower sales and business taxes, as well as provide rebates.
Sponsors of I-1631 tried again with a carbon fee that would pay for a wide range of projects aimed at cutting pollution and protecting the environment, such as solar power, zero-emissions vehicles and projects to improve forest health.
It also called for 35 percent of revenues to be spent in the most polluted census tracts, setting aside money to help workers in the fossil fuel industry transition to new jobs and requiring 10 percent to be spent on projects approved by American Indian tribes.
Kenneth Iverson, 64, a longshoreman from Tacoma, voted against the measure this month, calling it “one more tax.”
Barry Rabe, a professor in the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, said the Washington experience underscores the political difficulty of carbon taxes.