This afternoon in Tumwater, a network of right wing groups led by Republican megadonor Brian Heywood’s Let’s Go Washington political committee submitted what it said were petitions bearing 418,399 signatures for Initiative 2117, one of six initiatives they are hoping to qualify to the 2024 Washington State Legislature.
Sponsored by Republican State Party Chair Jim Walsh, I‑2117 would repeal Washington’s landmark Climate Commitment Act and wreck the state’s plans to secure a just and responsible transition to a clean energy future. NPI considers the initiative a grave threat to Washington’s well-being and strongly opposes it.
Prior to submitting signatures in Tumwater, Heywood and his Let’s Go Washington crew held an event at a Kent gas station for the mass media, with a U‑Haul truck full of boxes of signatures parked behind them. The event was seemingly organized to offer a visual to Seattle’s television stations, but none sent camera crews. The Seattle Times, Crosscut, and NPI were represented, however.
In Kent, Heywood was the only speaker, and he offered brief remarks that lasted less than eight minutes. Afterward, he answered questions posed by The Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner, who worked with Claire Withycombe to write an article about Initiative 2117 and the Let’s Go Washington slate.
In Tumwater, Heywood and Walsh both spoke. Curiously, they tried to claim that they are not opposed to holding polluters accountable for the pollution that they create. But of course, they don’t have a climate action plan of their own to replace the Climate Commitment Act in the event I‑2117 were to go into effect.
“We want the planet to be clean. We don’t want polluters to get off scot-free,” Heywood claimed in Tumwater. “Frankly, what the carbon tax does is it allows polluters to get off scot-free… They just pass the cost on.”
Heywood is wrong. Washington’s cap and invest system is actually not a carbon tax, nor does it allow polluters to get off “scot-free.”
Here’s a correct characterization of the Climate Commitment Act from the Washington State Department of Ecology: “The cap-and-invest program sets a limit, or cap, on overall carbon emissions in the state and requires businesses to obtain allowances equal to their covered greenhouse gas emissions. These allowances can be obtained through quarterly auctions hosted by Ecology, or bought and sold on a secondary market (just like stocks and bonds).”
“The cap will be reduced over time to ensure Washington achieves its 2030, 2040, and 2050 emissions-reduction commitments, which means we’ll issue fewer emissions allowances each year,” Ecology’s primer goes on to explain.
A pollution tax is a different mechanism for putting a price on pollution.
“Under a carbon tax, the government sets a price that emitters must pay for each ton of greenhouse gas emissions they emit. Businesses and consumers will take steps, such as switching fuels or adopting new technologies, to reduce their emissions to avoid paying the tax,” the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions notes. “A carbon tax differs from a cap-and-trade [a.k.a. cap and invest] program in that it provides a higher level of certainty about cost, but not about the level of emission reduction to be achieved (cap and trade does the inverse).”
Right wing groups like the Washington Policy Center have spent months claiming that the Climate Commitment Act has resulted in an increase in prices for gasoline, even though evidence shows that many factors influence fuel prices.
If you go on a Thanksgiving road trip to Oregon, you’ll find the current price for gas there is very comparable to prices in Washington. I was just in the Beaver State, and I paid $3.99 a gallon on each side of the Columbia. Oregon has no cap and invest system, yet just a few days ago, when I drove from state to state, I paid the exact same price there as I did for gas in Washington!
While it’s true that companies can pass on the costs of complying with a law to customers, or their customers’ customers, they don’t have to. The oil industry is heavily subsidized and very profitable and can choose not to pass on its costs. The Washington Policy Center counts oil companies among its donors and has a vested interest in criticizing policies that oil companies do not like.
Amusingly, the Kent gas station where Let’s Go Washington had its event today — a Shell station with a Jackson’s mini mart — is charging a higher price for gasoline than a competitor right across the street. People in the Kent area can easily pay less for gas simply by choosing a different station to fill up at.
Repealing the Climate Commitment Act would gut billions of dollars in investments Washington needs without guaranteeing a decrease in fuel prices.
Oil companies are under no obligation to charge less if I‑2117 goes into effect, a critical fact that went unacknowledged by Heywood and Walsh today.
Democratic State Senators Joe Nguyễn and Marko Liias issued a joint statement defending the Climate Commitment Act a few hours before Let’s Go Washington showed up in Tumwater with a U‑Haul truck full of boxes of petitions.
“The investments funded by the Climate Commitment Act are already providing major benefits to the people of Washington,” Nguyễn said.
“Washington is leading the way to a cleaner, greener future, and we can’t stop our climate progress. We need to defeat climate change and rein in the pollution that the oil and gas industry is causing across our state and nation — the Climate Commitment Act is how we make that happen.”
“Our Move Ahead Washington package is a comprehensive, fifteen-year vision for our state to reduce traffic congestion, expand transit and mobility options, and fix potholes and preserve aging bridges. The Climate Commitment Act is the foundation of these investments, without it all of these critical investments are at risk,” Liias said. (He currently serves as Senate Transportation Chair.) “Right as our economy is beginning to recover from the pandemic, we shouldn’t jeopardize this progress. Washington families can’t afford to spend more time stuck in traffic or blocked by a failing bridge, and our kids can’t keep breathing polluted air.”
Governor Jay Inslee is also strongly opposed to I‑2117.
“Basically, my message is not in our house… We are certainly not going to cut our state off at the ankles and go backwards,” Inslee said at a ribbon cutting for the Olympic Heritage Behavioral Health psychiatric hospital, in remarks reported by the Washington State Standard’s Jerry Cornfield.
Takeaways from Let’s Go Washington’s I‑2117 events
Having spent hours with the Let’s Go Washington crew in Kent and Tumwater, I got the sense that Heywood, Walsh, and the people they’ve hired to work for them are deeply enmeshed in their own right wing echo chamber and love to listen to themselves talk. They appear to be utterly convinced that Governor Jay Inslee and Democratic legislators are totally out of touch, even though recent electoral history supports the argument that it’s they who are out of touch.
This particular statement from Heywood speaks volumes: “Lawmakers had their fun, but now it’s time for the adults to clean up the mess.”
The implication is that lawmakers are immature children behaving irresponsibly.
In reality, Washington voters support taking climate action and a majority are even willing to pay higher gas prices and home heating costs to get aggressive climate laws, as our public opinion research has demonstrated.
Democratic legislators acted responsibly and in the best interest of Washingtonians when they passed the Climate Commitment Act.
If Heywood, Walsh, and their ilk were in charge, we’d have no climate action laws at all despite decades — decades! — of warnings from climate scientists about the peril our planet faces and the urgent need to reduce emissions.
Brian Heywood and Jim Walsh have not identified any policies that they would support as alternatives to the CCA that would help us raise the resources needed to secure a clean energy future. Perhaps they do believe in climate science, but they certainly don’t believe in responding to it.
They also seem not to appreciate that there’s a significant difference between a public vote on a proposal to create something brand new and a public vote on a proposal to repeal something. Initiative 732 and Initiative 1631, which were defeated in 2016 and 2018, were attempts to put a price on pollution. Initiative 2117 is an attempt to repeal a price on pollution that already exists.
The opposition to I‑2117 has recently been testing its ballot title (the words that voters will see on the ballot representing the measure) and has found it’s a real clunker, which is a problem for the measure’s prospects.
Brian Heywood has dismissed this research, laughing and telling The Standard’s Jerry Cornfield: “I hope they believe their polls with their entire souls.”
That’s a very curious statement coming from someone who professes to be data-driven. Heywood appears to not be interested in any information that contradicts his narrative. I keep hearing Heywood tout the polling he’s commissioned in favor of his six initiatives, including today. He has bragged that the initiatives are viewed favorably even by Democratic voters. But he hasn’t produced this polling for evaluation and scrutiny. If Heywood is truly confident that his data is sound and ours isn’t, why not publish the research? Why not show instead of tell?
If the scientific method wasn’t followed and corners were cut by his vendors (as was the case last year when many right wing firms were putting out garbage polls right before the election) then Heywood will have paid for data that tells him what he wants to hear but doesn’t reflect the opinions of a majority of Washingtonians.
Perhaps this is why Heywood hasn’t shown us his numbers.
Our team at NPI has decades of experience fighting destructive right wing initiatives like I‑2117. We are already putting that experience to use to ensure that I‑2117 gets the vigorous and effective opposition that it deserves.