Opinion Columns & Blogs

Pricing carbon is a smart policy for Washington

Washington has long been a leader in innovation, hosting the headquarters of major global businesses like Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Weyerhaeuser and Starbucks. Washington’s diverse landscapes sustain the state’s economically vital fishing industries, timber trade, and agriculture, as well as a vibrant tourism industry that contributes $17 billion annually to the state’s economy . But climate change is posing serious risks to the state’s economy and way of life. Fortunately, Washington can help meet this challenge by putting a price on carbon to limit the heat-trapping emissions that are altering our climate.

Carbon dioxide emissions, primarily from our use of fossil fuels for transport and to generate electricity, are the main cause of global warming. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide are altering the chemistry of coastal waters, and a recent study shows that ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs. According to research from the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, other climate impacts in Washington include changes in water availability brought on by smaller snowpack and earlier snowmelt; threats to forests from increasing wildfires, insect outbreaks, and tree diseases; and risks to coastal communities and infrastructure from rising sea levels and more intense storms.

Putting a price on carbon is a smart, cost-effective way to help meet carbon reduction goals already approved by the state Legislature. A price on carbon would also encourage the growth of a local clean energy economy and drive innovation in new technologies to reduce pollution.

A market-based program to price carbon could generate significant revenues, which could be put toward a variety of beneficial purposes including funding education, tax rebates for working class families, public transit and other transportation projects, clean energy, and assistance for low-income communities. Passing this type of legislation should be a priority for the Legislature.

A recent Elway Poll found that 71 percent of voters in Washington support policies requiring the most polluting industries to pay for the carbon they release. Carbon pricing policies are already being used successfully in California, the nine Northeast states that participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and the neighboring Canadian province of British Columbia, helping those regions cut carbon, grow their clean energy sectors, generate significant carbon revenues, and achieve public health benefits from reduced air pollution.

However, fossil fuel interests, like the deceptively named Washington Climate Collaborative, are already working to oppose action to limit carbon emissions in Washington. Groups like this are supported by major fossil fuel companies and have a long history of opposing climate action and spreading misinformation about climate science. The oil industry has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against climate and clean energy initiatives in Washington.

Policymakers should put the interests of Washington’s people first and show leadership by voting for, and implementing a law to put a price on carbon. It’s a smart move for Washington’s economy — and for the future of the planet we leave our children and grandchildren.