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Labor resistance to carbon initiative growing

As election day draws closer, campaigning for and against statewide ballot initiatives is ramping up. Initiative 1631, the state’s carbon pricing initiative, is not only facing opposition from the oil industry, but from a growing number of labor and building trade unions as well.

Just last week, the Iron Workers District Council of the Pacific Northwest announced their formal opposition to the initiative citing concerns that the tax would lead to the elimination of certain kinds of jobs and deter organizations from bringing business into Washington.

According to Lee Newgent, a consultant for the “No on I-1631” campaign, the iron workers are joining the Washington Building Trades Council, the Northwest Carpenters District Council, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302, the Northwest District Council of Laborers, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 32, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 174, the Cement Mason’s and Plasterers Local 528, and others who have all expressed their formal opposition to the initiative as well.

Newgent, who focuses on labor outreach for the “No on I-1631” campaign, says one of the campaign’s biggest concerns with the initiative is the burden of the tax on workers. Starting in January 2020, the carbon fee would be set at $15 per ton of carbon pollution, which translates to about a 14 cent per gallon increase at the gas pump. The fee would then increase by $2 per metric ton yearly, plus the rate of inflation. He says that the exemptions outlined in the initiative place the burden of paying the fee not on the largest carbon producers, but on the people who can least afford it.

“Just to go on the record, we believe that climate change is real and we believe that we need to do something to address it. But our issue with 1631 is that it’s just not the right plan. Eight out of the top 12 greenhouse gas emitters being exempted, and yet our workforce is going to take the brunt of the impact by the gas tax,” says Newgent. “And then we have real, real substantial issues with what the funding through 1631 would actually provide, and the oversight that goes with that funding.”

From his perspective, Newgent says this kind of complex issue should go through the legislature, rather than through the initiative process.

“I’m a long-time labor leader in Washington State and across the country, and my concerns are, we need to do something, but this initiative falls short of that. What this initiative would do, would tie our hands in anything we could in the legislature. And I think this issue should be in the legislature, it should be addressed in public hearings, and it should have oversight and explanation.”

According to PDC filings, the “No on I-1631” campaign has raised over $20 million dollars, compared to about $6.1 million raised by the campaign in support of it. Newgent says the “No” campaign will continue running multimedia ads, commercials, and mailouts in the coming weeks before election day.