Carbon Emissions Tax on The Ballot Out West: Could New York Follow Suit?

By: Morgan Block

Besides the outcome of the  presidential race, there are many important issues at stake on this upcoming Election Day. One major issue for environmentalists is the vote on a carbon tax in Washington State. It is a known fact that a switch to safer, more renewable energy is of the utmost importance. A carbon tax in Washington State can push the switch from the use of fossil fuels towards the use of more renewable energy and emissions-free fuels.

In Washington State, there is an initiative on the ballot regarding a Carbon Emission Tax, known as Initiative I-732. I-732 would tax refineries and utilities, which would then allow for higher gasoline, natural gas, and electricity prices. The carbon tax for I-732 would start at $15 per ton of carbon dioxide in July 2017, increase to $25 per ton of carbon dioxide after one year, and then continuously rise with inflation plus 3.5 percent after that. Washington State would be the first to institute a carbon tax. It would not be the only state in North America without a tax though, as British Columbia, Canada instituted theirs in 2008.

Although some support the initiative, others are skeptical of carbon tax systems. There are some environmental groups opposed to the  initiative because I-732 does not raise enough funds towards environmental causes. Critics are also quick to point out that a carbon tax winds up affecting lower-income Americans the most, as everyone pays the same price for fuel regardless of income. To address this, that the tax has been proposed to be revenue-neutral, meaning that the tax revenue would go towards lowering Washington residents’ taxes. Some environmental economists say that this revenue-neutral idea has more positives than negatives. Also, a tax of this nature could push forth more consumer investment in renewable energy, as carbon-neutral energy would become much less expensive than carbon-intensive fuels.

Though New York does not have a carbon tax on the ballot, the issues of energy and carbon emission issues are being talked about on the campaign trail. Take the race in New York’s 19th Congressional District, for example. The issue of taxing energy has been brought up in the battle between the two candidates in the race for the Congressional seat. One candidate, John Faso, makes the point that we cannot make energy unaffordable through an energy tax. The other candidate, Zephyr Teachout, points that a tax on energy would benefit the overwhelming majority of people because it could be made revenue-neutral. It is projected that over 90% of those living underneath the poverty line would receive a net-gain from the dividend.

If passed in Washington State, I-732 can serve as a model for a tax on carbon. New York could greatly benefit from a carbon tax like I-732, and it could lead the other states in America by example if it could initiate one. In order to achieve the OneNYC goals set out by Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Clean Energy Standard, New Yorkers need to find environmentally friendly alternatives to the way they heat their homes, light their homes, and transport themselves to and from their homes. NYLCV will closely monitor the results of this ballot initiative in Washington State to see how it affects the environment and economy of the Evergreen State.