Carbon Pollution Accountability
By Sameer Ranade
Charging polluters for their planet warming carbon emissions will unleash the transition to a robust 21st Century clean energy economy. Along the way the new clean economy can eradicate poverty, create more jobs, and make a healthy environment accessible to all. We are at a crucial point where we can do the right thing by tackling global warming. Or we can listen to special interests that beg us to ignore science and innovations, thus allowing the prospect of preserving human civilization slip from our reach.
Recognizing that we must choose a brighter future, Governor Inslee sent the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act to the Legislature, a bill that uses proven market-based tools to protect our cherished state. It is designed to meet critical priorities while adding Washington to the growing list of places that charge a carbon pollution fee, from Chile to China to California.
The Carbon Pollution Accountability Act makes polluters aware of the cost of carbon, and encourages innovation and capital investment in clean projects. Starting in July, 2016, Washington’s emissions would be capped. Emitters would buy permits at an auction for each ton of carbon — limited in supply by the cap. Specifically, entities that emit over 25,000 tons of carbon annually would fall under the cap, thus covering only meaningful emitters. Importantly, the bill guarantees Washington meets the emission reduction targets in the years 2020, 2035, and 2050 that the Legislature established in law in 2008.
Washington is estimated to raise $947 million from permit auction revenues after year one. About 80% of that would be distributed evenly between education and clean transportation. The remaining revenue would be directed to provide tax relief for energy intensive businesses and working families, affordable housing, forest protection, and rural economic growth. The bill would also create an environmental and economic equity committee to help guide implementation. These combined elements ensure a Just Transition to a thriving clean energy future.
The Carbon Pollution Accountability Act is an economic boon. Worsening climate impacts like ocean acidification and drought cost businesses real money. Less carbon pollution would save taxpayer dollars. Fighting last year’s raging forest fires cost Washington $85 million, compared to $1 million in 1970.
Critically, switching to clean energy accelerates job growth. Consider that every fossil fuel Washington consumes is imported. Thus, homegrown clean energy stimulates additional in-state job creation and spending. Investing a million dollars in building efficiency retrofits, for example, would create seven times more direct jobs than putting that money in oil or natural gas. We have enormous untapped potential to retrofit buildings, generate farmers’ revenue from growing sustainable biofuels, and leverage our low-cost power to manufacture things like solar panels and electric vehicle parts.
Finally, clean energy can empower communities. For instance, an electricpowered bus saves fuel, lowering transit agency expenses and enabling investment in fare reduction, more routes, and better-paid drivers.
Whether motivated by economic, environmental, or moral reasons, the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act is an excellent bill. We must advocate for it with the sense of destiny in President Kennedy’s moonshot, and the urgency of my great inspiration, Dr. King, as our struggle is ultimately one of human rights and unity.
Sameer Ranade is Climate and Clean Energy Campaign Associate with the Washington Environmental Council and a PSARA member.