Understanding Initiative 1631: Investing in Clean Energy and a Healthy Outdoors for Washington

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A new measure would invest in clean air, clean energy and clean water in the Evergreen State.

This November, voters in Washington state will choose whether to support an initiative that aims to reduce carbon pollution by investing in clean air, clean energy, clean water, healthy forests and healthy communities. The measure, Initiative 1631, secured nearly 350,000 signatures, a third more than the minimum number required. The Washington Secretary of State's office has validated the signatures and I-1631 has qualified for the ballot.

The Basics

A “yes” vote for I-1631 would mean the biggest emitters of carbon pollution would pay a fee. It is estimated that, if passed, I-1631 will raise approximately $1 billion a year initially. The money would be invested in clean energy technology, protecting clean water and forests, and helping the communities most impacted by changes to the climate.

Large emitters would pay $15 per metric ton of carbon pollution. The fee would increase each year by $2 per metric ton, plus an adjustment for inflation, and be capped in 2035 if the state is on track to meet its pollution reduction goals.

Here’s how the money would be invested:

  • 70 percent in energy efficiency, renewable energy including wind and solar, energy storage, clean transportation, and carbon sequestration. Large emitters who pay the fee would be eligible to apply for funds to make their operations cleaner and more efficient. At least 15 percent of this 70 percent would be directed to help people with low incomes transition to clean energy resources.
  • 25 percent to help our forests and waters withstand the effects of climate change.
  • 5 percent to fund a healthy communities program to assist tribal communities and others highly impacted by wildfires, sea-level rise and other impacts.

If passed, I-1631 would take effect January 1, 2020 and would be a first for Washington. Other states have taken their own steps, including several in the northeast that participate in a program to charge for carbon pollution and invest in clean energy. California implemented a cap and trade program in 2012.

Read the full text of Initiative 1631

Arguments For

Those for the initiative argue that Washington’s millions of residents rely on healthy forests, clean air and clean water, and that providing access to clean energy will help preserve this for future generations.

They also point to unprecedented support for I-1631. As of early August, 274 groups spanning environmental, faith-based, labor, business, health and affected communities back the measure. The number is growing weekly. Although the environmental community has not always agreed on how best to put a price on carbon pollution, it is united in this effort.

Proponents underscore that, if I-1631 is passed, a public oversight board including businesses, workers, experts and communities will direct the investments in keeping with the measure’s pollution cleanup targets for the benefit of Washington state residents.

Arguments Against

Those against the measure—principally large fossil fuel companies, led by the Western States Petroleum Association—argue this is not the right model for a fee on carbon. They say the fee would not apply to all large emitters equally. A coal plant in Centralia that will shut down between 2020 and 2025, for instance, would be exempted.

Those against also argue the cost of the fee would be passed on to the consumer in home energy and transportation bills. For example, motorists may see an increase of 15 cents per gallon at the gas pump, if large polluters choose to pass on the costs. The cost total would vary by household, but the Initiative provides that lower-income households would be eligible for assistance and would be the first beneficiaries of investments.

What Happens Next 

The coalition supporting I-1631 is raising money to run its campaign and engaging communities around the state. Its efforts will be opposed by a campaign sponsored by Western States Petroleum Association. As the election draws closer, local and national media are expected to watch the competing campaigns closely because I-1631 represents one prominent example of how a state is considering action to address carbon pollution.

Washington residents have until October 8 for online and mail-in registration and updates. The deadline for in-person voter registration is October 29. Ballots will be mailed or dropped off between October 19 and November 6.

Read More: REI’s View on Initiative 1631

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