By Alexander “Sandy” Mackie
A few weeks ago, the News published an impassioned plea from Raechel Youngberg in support of Initiative 1631 as a step towards solving the world’s climate change issues and by implication reducing the incident of smoke and fire in the Methow Valley.
Before your readers jump to support her request, however, they should be better-informed about what I-1631 does and does not do.
Beginning in 2020 the initiative imposes fee on “major emitters” of CO2 starting at $15 per ton, increasing by $2 per year adjusted for inflation until carbon reduction goals are met — if ever.
The initiative creates a “Pollution Cleanup Fund” to be allocated as follows:
After reasonable administrative costs, 70 percent of total expenditures under this act must be used for the clean air and clean energy investments authorized under section 4 of this act;
25 percent of total expenditures under this act must be used for the clean water and healthy forests investments authorized under section 5 of this act; and 5 percent of total expenditures under this act must be used for the healthy communities’ investments authorized under section 6 of this act.
Section 4 details the “clean air-energy” purposes for which a majority of the funds may be spent, and are vaguely described as “Programs, activities, or projects, that … employ clean energy; … increase the energy efficiency or reduce carbon emissions of industrial facilities; … increase energy efficiency in new and existing buildings; …reduce transportation-related carbon emissions; improve energy efficiency; replace the use of natural gas with gas not derived from fossil fuels; … deploy distributed generation, energy storage, demand side management technologies; and …result in sequestration of carbon.”
Political slush fund
While the topics are certainly worthy of consideration, the management of the fund is left to the discretion of a 15-person “Management Board” under the auspices of the governor’s office. The politically appointed board will dole out funds to public agencies and environmentally oriented and other nonprofits submitting proposals falling into one or more of the categories. In short, the Pollution Clean Up fund becomes a slush fund for every agency and “nonprofit environmental or community group” to tap to support politically favored projects. While the stated goal is to “reduce carbon emissions,” in practice such programs spend inordinate funds on administrative costs, studies, environmental reviews and evaluations with very little concrete steps benefit to overall atmospheric carbon reduction.
The programs detailed in sections 5 (Water and Forests) and 6 (Communities) are similarly vague, subjective and lend themselves to funding politically favorable groups and programs with limited demonstrated ability to achieve any meaningful results.
Proponents of the program argue it is not a tax, but a regulatory fee because the funds are charged to major emitters and spent on specific projects. But no specific projects are identified and the targeted “major emitters” (electric utilities and petroleum companies) make products sold to consumers with the increased costs incurred as a result of the tax passed on to those consumers. Those least able to pay will be hit the hardest and with no demonstrable benefit in their lifetimes.
The promises of I-1631 are illusory — a chimera — and environmental tokenism in the extreme. But the increased costs to the business and consumers in the state who can ill afford them will be very real. A well-defined forest management plan to reduce fires by changing decades of forest mismanagement will do more to reduce carbon pollution and the smoke from fires in this state than the initiative ever will.
Voting for such programs such as I-1631 may soothe the soul, giving the voter the sense that they have “done something” about climate change. But history provides no evidence that such idealistic programs will have no meaningful impact on climate change in Washington state or the nation or the world.
Climate change and reduction of fires are worthy topics for discussion and action. But I-1631 is not the vehicle to lead to success in any dimension. I-1631 is nothing more than a grab-bag creating a politically managed slush fund with little if any accountability or promise of success. It is a cost and tax we can ill afford — vote no on I-1631.
Alexander “Sandy” Mackie had been involved in land use and environmental issues in the state for more than 40 years. He has personal experience with siting green energy facilities (wind and solar) and has been following climate change issues personally since the initial IPCC report in the early 1990’s and for a time as chair of the Association of Washington Business land use and environment committee.