House carbon tax bill sees hours of supportive, critical public testimony

A bill that would introduce a statewide carbon tax was heard in the House Environment committee and was met with about two hours of testimony, both in support and against the bill, from about 65 members of the public Tuesday.

“I think this bill is our best shot at starting to reduce our emissions to a safe level in this legislative session,” said Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, at the hearing.

House Bill 1646 would start the tax at $15 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions starting in July 2018, and would increase each year by 7 percent and inflation through 2047. The goal would be to reduce emissions in the state to 1990 levels by 2020, and to reduce emission to less than 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. The bill would exempt certain industries, identified as “energy-intense trade-exposed” entities, from the full weight of the tax. According to the bill analysis:

The (Department of Commerce) must adopt a rule identifying energy intensive and trade-exposed (EITE) facilities by December 1, 2017. The rule must, at minimum, identify metal, glass, cement, and pulp and paper manufacturers as EITEs.

The EITE facility fossil fuel use is subject to the GHG tax unless the EITE facility obtains a certificate from the (Department of Commerce) that denotes their EITE facility status. This certificate must be provided by the EITE facilities to light and power businesses and fuel suppliers when purchasing fossil fuels or electricity. The EITE facilities must submit a report to the at intervals prescribed by the (Department of Commerce) rule regarding the EITE facility’s consumption of fossil fuels and electricity for the preceding year.

This element was the subject of a mixed response from critics of the bill. Professionals from EITE industries said they supported identifying EITE and creating some exemptions, but many said the carbon tax would still place a burden on EITE industries and that the language was not clear enough to provide certainty to those businesses.

Chris McCabe, executive director of the Northwest Pulp & Paper Association, said the bill could lead to “job leakage” in the state as paper mills may opt out of investing in Washington to move to more lenient states or countries. While he said he appreciated the language that identified EITE businesses, he argued there wasn’t enough language in there to comfort those types of businesses.

“These sections do not provide adequate protections or certainty,” he said at the hearing.

Kaiser Aluminum‘s Kyle England, echoed that sentiment in his testimony opposing the bill.

“We greatly appreciate the EITE recognition in the legislation,” he said.

But, he said that a carbon tax could disincentivize the very practice the bill is seeking to encourage: reducing carbon emissions. He said that businesses that are already working to reduce their emissions would get hit with the tax and may seek to set up in economies with fewer clean energy regulations. EITE businesses ought to get more backup from government, he said.

“We’re part of the carbon solution,” he said.

But many expressed wholehearted support of the legislation, and argued it was a necessary step in setting an example to curtailing climate change.

Marc Berejka, government affairs director for REI, expressed his support of the bill because he argued lawmakers need to implement long-term plans since global warming is a long-term problem. He said that lawmakers should consider the environment in economic terms as well.

“Washington’s natural beauty is a competitive advantage,” he said, adding: “A healthy outdoors is essential to a healthy recreational economy.”

Some said the legislation didn’t go far enough in its goals. Athena Fain, 13, representing Plant for the Planet, said her future was wrapped up in this type of legislation, and that the carbon emission goals should go further. The bill’s goal to get below 50 percent of where carbon emissions were at in 1990 would mean carbon emissions would reach about 450 parts per million, which Fain argued would be too high.

“If we allow it to get to 450, which your bill aims for, it’s not going to work,” she said. “We want it to be at 350, as opposed to 450, because I don’t have gills.”

Erin Fenner: erin@washingtonstatewire.com, @erinfenner