Washington State Millennials Lead First-Ever Citizens' Initiative to Put a Price on Carbon - The Years Project

Washington State Millennials Lead First-Ever Citizens’ Initiative to Put a Price on Carbon

By Put A Price On It

And It Could be a Game-Changer for the Country

By Duncan Clauson, Co-Director, Yes on I-732 Campaign

Scientists the world over are warning about the climate emergency that’s been unleashed by burning excessive amounts of fossil fuels, and how little time we have left to reverse course.

This election season voters here in Washington state will not only have the opportunity to weigh in on who should occupy the Oval Office, but they may also cast the deciding votes for a powerful new climate policy that some say could serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

Initiative 732 is a grassroots, bipartisan effort to put a science-based price on carbon emissions.  And there’s a reason many Millennials support it.

The Millennial Generation has been the first to grow up with the impact of climate change underway; it’s already happening. A lot of them are disillusioned with establishment politics. What they like about our approach is that it doesn’t have people making decisions based on their political influence. We exist to solve a problem, and together we’re working to solve it. Since the beginning, it has been a youth-driven process to push the policy forward.

One of our campaign supporters is Alex Lenferna, a 28-year-old South African Fulbright Scholar who’s getting his PhD in climate change ethics at the University of Washington. He and other students who were deeply concerned about climate change began looking at models that could be implemented at the state level to reduce carbon emissions.

They were soon joined by environmental economists and others, and after careful study, the group decided to put forward a proposal modelled on British Columbia’s successful carbon tax policy. Not only has the B.C. policy, implemented in 2008, dramatically decreased fossil fuel use, it did so in a way that even gave a slight lift to the economy.

What we most wanted to avoid was having the initiative held hostage to ideological purists, debating whether the government should be larger or smaller. So instead, we decided to side-step the issue entirely. Initiative 732 is formulated to be revenue-neutral, shifting the tax burden away from the most vulnerable communities and toward the biggest carbon emitters, while still protecting the competitiveness of Washington businesses (the policy eliminates a tax on manufacturing to help balance things out). We collected over 363,000 signatures in an intense state-wide signature gathering process last fall, which put I-732 on the November ballot.

“The moral urgency of climate change drew me to this issue initially,” Alex told me. “A carbon tax is a powerful way to reduce pollution, but it can also be a powerful tool to fight poverty and help fix a regressive tax structure.”

In fact, Washington state currently has the dubious distinction of having the most regressive tax policy in the country, meaning that the poor pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than the wealthy. In order to help remedy this, I-732 returns the money that’s raised through taxing carbon emissions to taxpayers through a one-percent reduction in the state sales tax, and also funds a working families tax rebate, providing up to $1,500 a year in tax relief to over 460,000 low-income families.

CNN’s John Sutter has called I-732 “a brilliant first step.” The Sightline Institute, an independent sustainability non-profit, goes even further, calling it “administratively elegant,” and noting that I-732 would “amplify other clean energy policies and speed the Evergreen State toward a thriving clean energy economy.”

It’s this approach that has led to I-732’s bipartisan appeal. Our endorsement page reveals not only many Democratic supporters, but also high profile Republicans, including George Shultz, the former Secretary of the Treasury and President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State.

And regardless of what happens at the polls in November, I-732 is a  straightforward approach to fighting climate change that other states can adopt, regardless of their political leanings.

We wanted to create a policy that is ‘spreadable.’ What we came up with is a carbon pricing policy template that could get passed in a more liberal Blue state like ours, but also Purple or even Red states throughout the country.

With the passion and dedication of so many young people behind it, I-732 could soon put the highest, most persistent price on carbon ever, and in the process show the world how to make a just and swift transition to a carbon-free future.

Even if you don’t live in Washington State, you can help support this effort by donating to the campaign or volunteering to call registered voters. We’re in the middle of the biggest voter education effort on climate change that Washington State has ever seen, with the goal of reaching one million voters by Election Day.

Please join us in taking big action on climate change today!