Higher taxes not the best way to reduce emissions

The News Tribune’s editorial board asked the right questions in its analysis of Gov. Jay Inslee’s cap-and-trade carbon tax plan (”State carbon dioxide cap-and-trade plans need serious vetting,” 4-14).

As a member of Tacoma’s Public Utility Board with both a passion for safeguarding our environment and ensuring a healthy economy, I have a big interest in the outcome. That’s why some fundamental, indisputable facts must be injected into this debate.

Washingtonians value a clean environment; it’s why most of us choose to live here. So reducing emissions has been a priority for government, businesses and everyday citizens for a long time.

In fact, we set a goal as a state to have greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 measure below where they were in 1990.

That has helped us achieve the seventh cleanest state economy in the country. Because of our abundant hydropower, our electricity generation emits the fourth-lowest amount of carbon dioxide in the country. We drive less and use less gas per person than almost any other state, largely because we have one of the highest rates of public transit use and carpooling.

All of this has produced tremendous results. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, carbon dioxide — which constitutes more than 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — is now below Washington’s 1990 levels.

This kind of success should lead us all to embrace more leadership in reducing carbon. But policies should reflect our past success and spirit of collaboration.

A transportation funding bill moving through the state Legislature would do just that. It restores funding to public transit, provides incentives to convert commercial trucks from diesel to lower-carbon fuels and relieves congestion that leaves us all idling in traffic.

Nearly half of Washington’s carbon emissions come from our cars and trucks. We can change that by re-investing in alternative modes of transportation and breaking traffic bottlenecks.

On the other hand, Inslee’s $1.3 billion cap-and-trade tax proposal would raise the cost of energy for everybody. Contrary to its proponents’ assertions that it would only impact a handful of companies, the governor’s own economists confirm that his plan would increase the price of gas by as much as 41 cents per gallon over time and have labeled it “regressive” because of its disproportionate impact on low-income households.

The governor’s economists also estimate it would raise the price of natural gas by 22 percent above projections. This has a direct impact on manufacturing. An independent analysis of the plan concluded that, if it were implemented, Washington would have an average of 56,000 fewer jobs each year than under current projections.

The News Tribune asks if our state can accommodate carbon-intensive industries. A good question. A better one, however, is how do we advance the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by driving these companies from low-carbon Washington into high-carbon jurisdictions like China that don’t care about their carbon footprint?

You don’t have to convince Washingtonians to care about the environment. It’s part of who we are, and it shows in the great progress we’ve made in reducing carbon emissions. But our shared goal is better served by partnering with everyday citizens and businesses, not taxing them into submission.

Monique Trudnowski, co-owner of the Adriatic Grill Restaurant, is a member of the Tacoma Public Utility Board.