NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

Progressive Ideas We Need: Funding a clean energy future through pollution penalties

Editor’s Note: Today and through­out this week­end, NPI is run­ning a spe­cial series here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate called Pro­gres­sive Ideas We Need, high­light­ing pro­pos­als that would raise qual­i­ty of life in our region and in the Unit­ed States as a whole. Each post is con­tributed by an NPI staff, board, or advi­so­ry coun­cil member. 

It is a brand new year for us in the Pacif­ic North­west, with new chal­lenges, a new pres­i­dent, and a new polit­i­cal landscape.

The rather unortho­dox pol­i­tics of the past twelve months has got us chat­ter­ing away — because of how much we know we had ‘yet to do’ a year ago, and now it feels like the momen­tum is neg­a­tive. In an iron­ic twist on our cho­sen moniker, a piv­ot to proac­tive, pro­gres­sive pol­i­cy is imped­ed by frus­trat­ing­ly stub­born con­ver­sa­tions about issues which should be settled.

The response so far to the 2012 McCleary deci­sion of the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court has all the hall­marks of grand­stand­ing and polit­i­cal games­man­ship that run direct­ly counter to the Wash­ing­ton­ian polit­i­cal ethos.

As read­ers know, the Court has held that the state has not been meet­ing its para­mount duty due to hav­ing failed to prop­er­ly fund­ing our pub­lic schools. The glacial pace of progress is weigh­ing heav­i­ly on our pub­lic consciousness.

It was sim­ple enough for our Framers to see the val­ue and neces­si­ty of a well edu­cat­ed cit­i­zen­ry, and yet, one hun­dred and twen­ty-eight years lat­er, we’re strug­gling to actu­al­ly invest in our schools, because we’re chained to a regres­sive, upside-down, unsus­tain­able tax code the Leg­is­la­ture won’t fix.

Sim­i­lar­ly, the push­back on a hard switch to renew­able ener­gy sources has pre­vent­ed us from act­ing more swift­ly to address the dam­age to our climate.

In a sense it feels like we’re still liv­ing in the mid 1990s, when right wing Repub­li­cans were still dis­miss­ing cli­mate sci­ence and when it was com­mon­ly known as glob­al warm­ing. Head in the sand reac­tionar­ies have been giv­en legit­i­ma­cy they don’t deserve, and pro­vid­ed with a plat­form for spread­ing their mis­in­for­ma­tion.

Recent plans to address the accel­er­at­ing prob­lem have gone nowhere, includ­ing Gov­er­nor Inslee’s Pol­lu­tion Account­abil­i­ty Act of 2015, and Car­bon­WA’s poor­ly thought out Ini­tia­tive 732, defeat­ed by vot­ers last year.

Gov­er­nor Inslee, how­ev­er, has returned unde­terred with a new bud­get pro­pos­al aimed at tax­ing the largest car­bon pol­luters, and using that mon­ey to invest more in resources and staffing for schools. Along with a pro­posed cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy, this plan would pro­vide schools with coun­selors and nurs­es, and the train­ing to go along with sup­port­ing staff.

An out­line of the bud­get explains:

The car­bon tax would take effect in fis­cal year 2018, gen­er­at­ing about $1.9 bil­lion in the next bien­ni­um. About half the rev­enue gen­er­at­ed by the car­bon tax would be direct­ed to the state’s edu­ca­tion needs.

The rest would be rein­vest­ed in clean ener­gy and trans­porta­tion projects to low­er con­sumer fuel bills and reduce green­house gas emis­sions. Rev­enue will also sup­port major projects to build water infra­struc­ture and improve for­est health.

Some funds will off­set tax­es to busi­ness­es and low-income house­holds espe­cial­ly vul­ner­a­ble to increased ener­gy costs.

To no one’s sur­prise, this idea has received a cool recep­tion from Sen­ate Repub­li­cans, who take their cues from dis­graced ini­tia­tive pro­mot­er Tim Eyman.

But Inslee’s will­ing­ness to put a pol­lu­tion tax on the table deserves to be cel­e­brat­ed. This is a well thought-out pro­pos­al that deserves to be vot­ed on in the Leg­is­la­ture. And if Sen­ate Repub­li­cans won’t allow a vote, then we must give the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton an oppor­tu­ni­ty to say yes at the ballot.

Pro­gres­sives take note: we will suc­ceed if and when we are able to com­pelling­ly offer a val­ue-based frame­work for pol­i­cy, one that is con­sis­tent, applic­a­ble, and con­sid­er­ate of the enor­mi­ty of the task at hand.

Edu­ca­tion and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion are the keys to a pros­per­ous future here in the North­west — let’s act to ensure the next gen­er­a­tion inher­its a region that is  green­er and more pros­per­ous than the one we inher­it­ed. Let’s enact a pol­lu­tion tax to fund a just tran­si­tion to the clean ener­gy future we need.

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