NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

Washingtonians rejected I‑1631, but that doesn’t mean they oppose a price on pollution

Ini­tia­tive 1631 is going down to defeat in the Novem­ber 2018 gen­er­al elec­tion, which is cer­tain­ly a set­back for Wash­ing­ton’s efforts to clean up our air and water, but its demise does­n’t mean that Wash­ing­to­ni­ans oppose putting a price on pol­lu­tion, as right wing com­men­ta­tors and Repub­li­can Par­ty brass have argued.

How do we know? Because for the past two years, NPI has been ask­ing Wash­ing­to­ni­ans if they sup­port rais­ing rev­enue to act on cli­mate, and a clear majori­ties of respon­dents have said that they do each time.

Here’s our ques­tion from ear­li­er this year:

Wash­ing­ton State has com­mit­ted to meet­ing the goals of the Paris cli­mate accords as a par­tic­i­pant of the recent­ly-formed Unit­ed States Cli­mate Alliance. Do you strong­ly agree, some­what agree, some­what dis­agree or strong­ly dis­agree with the fol­low­ing state­ment: Wash­ing­ton State should levy a tax on pol­lu­tion to fund projects that would reduce harm­ful emis­sions plus accel­er­ate our tran­si­tion to elec­tric vehi­cles and renew­able ener­gy sources like solar, wind, or geot­her­mal?

And here are the respons­es we received:

  • Agree: 57%
    • Strong­ly agree: 40%
    • Some­what agree: 17%
  • Dis­agree: 36%
    • Some­what dis­agree: 6%
    • Strong­ly dis­agree: 30%
  • Not sure: 8%

Our sur­vey of six hun­dred and sev­en­ty-five like­ly 2018 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field May 22nd-23rd, 2018. The sur­vey used a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines and online inter­views of cell phone only respon­dents. The poll was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for NPI, and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.8% at the 95% con­fi­dence lev­el.

This and oth­er pub­lic opin­ion research shows that Wash­ing­to­ni­ans believe in cli­mate sci­ence and want to clean pol­lu­tants out of our air and water and soil.

But just as with health­care or any oth­er issue, the dev­il is in the details. The specifics of any pro­pos­al real­ly do mat­ter. The leg­isla­tive process is per­haps the best place for specifics to be ham­mered out: argued, cri­tiqued, nego­ti­at­ed, debat­ed.

Sad­ly, our elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives have repeat­ed­ly failed to adopt a plan of action to pro­vide resources to care for our com­mon home. And so the peo­ple have been asked to act instead: first with I‑732 back in 2016, and this year with I‑1631.

How do we rec­on­cile the find­ing above with the demise of I‑732 and I‑1631?

It’s actu­al­ly quite sim­ple: Wash­ing­to­ni­ans def­i­nite­ly want to take action to address cli­mate dam­age, but they haven’t seen a plan they real­ly like yet.

When it comes to bal­lot mea­sures, the basic rule of thumb is, if you’re in doubt, you vote no. Many vot­ers fig­ure they’ll get anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty to say yes to a bet­ter plan lat­er if they vote no on one that they’re unsure about.

And that is actu­al­ly not an unrea­son­able assump­tion, espe­cial­ly when the mea­sure seeks to address a vex­ing issue that isn’t going away.

I‑732 was designed as a tax swap that would use all of the rev­enue gen­er­at­ed from pric­ing pol­lu­tion to off­set oth­er tax­es. Vot­ers did­n’t like it.

I‑1631 took a dif­fer­ent approach, propos­ing to ded­i­cate the rev­enue it gen­er­at­ed to projects and ini­tia­tives to tran­si­tion us away from fos­sil fuels to clean ener­gy.

I‑1631 is receiv­ing more sup­port than I‑732 did, which indi­cates it’s clos­er to what peo­ple across Wash­ing­ton want to see in a cli­mate action plan.

Big Oil cer­tain­ly viewed I‑1631 as a more cred­i­ble pro­pos­al than I‑732, because where­as only min­i­mal resources were brought to bear against that mea­sure, they absolute­ly smashed spend­ing records in their fight against I‑1631.

Big Oil would­n’t have spent all that mon­ey if they thought I‑1631 was sim­ply going to col­lapse under its own weight. They set out to kill it with fire after they saw for them­selves in their own research that the mea­sure could pass.

The sto­ry of this cam­paign is that a hand­ful of obscene­ly rich com­pa­nies wed­ded to their prof­itable fos­sil fuels busi­ness expend­ed a jaw-drop­ping $30+ mil­lion to wage an unprece­dent­ed air war against I‑1631. This air war went on all autumn long. Over a third of the NO on I‑1631 mon­ey came from one com­pa­ny: BP.

To ensure I‑1631 went down, Big Oil’s hired guns put togeth­er a series of ads intend­ed to sow as many seeds of doubt about the mea­sure as pos­si­ble.

I‑1631 was assailed in the ads as a tax on ener­gy that would send bil­lions of dol­lars to an unac­count­able, unelect­ed board to be spent at their whim.

We debunked that false argu­ment here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, but it went unad­dressed by the Yes on I‑1631 cam­paign, which neglect­ed to offer an effec­tive rebut­tal clos­ing argu­ment that answered Big Oil’s unceas­ing attacks, despite hav­ing the resources to do so (the Yes cam­paign raised over $15 mil­lion).

To win, the Yes on I‑1631 cam­paign need­ed to per­form well in at least a few swing coun­ties, like Sno­homish and What­com, but it failed to do so. The ini­tia­tive has the sup­port of a major­i­ty of vot­ers in King, San Juan, and Jef­fer­son coun­ties — the same juris­dic­tions that sup­port­ed I‑732 two years ago. Else­where, it’s not pass­ing.

Since I‑1631 is unfor­tu­nate­ly not going to become law in Decem­ber, we need to get to work devel­op­ing a new plan, pron­to.

We can’t be dis­cour­aged or deterred by I‑1631’s demise. We’ve got to press on, like the adage says: If at first you don’t suc­ceed… try, try again. Or, to para­phrase Edi­son: we haven’t actu­al­ly failed, we’ve just found two ways that won’t work.

We did­n’t inher­it this great green land of Cas­ca­dia from our ances­tors; rather, we are bor­row­ing it from our chil­dren… and we can’t leave them with a lega­cy of envi­ron­men­tal neglect. That would be immoral and irre­spon­si­ble.

Gov­er­nor Inslee would be wise to imme­di­ate­ly con­vene a team to study the I‑1631 cam­paign and these elec­tion results. The team should devel­op rec­om­men­da­tions to his office and the Leg­is­la­ture, explor­ing lessons learned and next steps.

We know we are run­ning out of time to pre­vent cat­a­stroph­ic cli­mate dam­age. There is an urgent need to come up with a plan to reduce pol­lu­tion that is sen­si­ble and effec­tive. The ball is now back in the Leg­is­la­ture’s court. In 2019, the House and Sen­ate will have expand­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic majori­ties, and a moral oblig­a­tion to use those majori­ties to devel­op a plan that’s bet­ter than I‑732 and I‑1631.

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