On Tuesday’s Election, my home state of Washington could vote to become the first state in the nation to implement a carbon tax. On the surface, I-732 seems like it would unite all people and groups who have concerns about the environment. Ironically, this now notorious ballot measure has divided environmentalists.
Those who support the initiative argue that taxing carbon is the best way to reduce its use and to help society shift towards more sources of sustainable energy. They think that we have gone long enough without taxing carbon and they want to see Washington pioneer progressive policy aimed to fight climate change.
Opponents of the bill worry that it is not a perfect policy and that it could cause major problems in the future. They don’t like that it is revenue neutral, meaning that the tax revenue gained from this would cause corporations to get tax breaks. They also think that it could have negative impacts on poorer communities.
Depending on Washington’s choice on Tuesday, there are several different ways that events could play out over the next several months and years. If it fails, then a better measure could be introduced later that includes more revenue going toward the development of clean energy. In the long run, this would seem like a reasonable situation. Taking a few more years to get the initiative right could be worth it if it passes by a wide margin and inspires other states to take a similar approach.
However, in the short term, many people who oppose any sort of carbon tax would argue that the people have spoken and voted against emissions taxes. This could have negative impacts on the similar initiatives in other states. If the measure is approved, then it could either be amended in the future, or it could prove to be a success or a failure in its current form. These options have risks similar to outright rejection by voters.
The divisions on the left created by the provisions of this specific measure may undermine any argument for why taxes on carbon emissions can be beneficial. For example, Fox Business aired a piece in early August that aimed to use environmentalists’ conflicting opinions on I-732 to discredit the argument for any climate change policies. They paint environmentalists as hypocrites who secretly do not care about the environment and actually just want to increase the size of government.
Attacks have come from liberal media outlets as well. The Editorial Board of The Washington Post published an article titled, “The left’s opposition to a carbon tax shows there’s something deeply wrong with the left.” Of course, this type of negative rhetoric is not helpful to the overall goal of getting society to transition away from carbon and investing in sustainable energy.
No matter what happens on Tuesday, it is essential that Washington’s voters and policymakers, as well as observers around the country, not let potential negative consequences impede the common goal of reducing carbon output.