It has been a tense and tragic time in the runup to the midterm election next week, and voters nationwide have reasons to feel fear about what may happen next, but we need to remember that there are also opportunities for great hope in the election next Tuesday.
For example, few issues have generated as much excitement for climate action as the Washington State carbon pricing initiative, I-1631. This initiative, developed after a painstaking and highly inclusive planning process that has garnered enthusiastic support from a large, diverse coalition of constituencies, would create a groundbreaking carbon fee on polluters that would be reinvested in Washington’s communities, businesses, and clean energy industries. (UCS describes the initiative and how it would work in detail here.) At a time when Washington DC is in retrograde motion on climate change, even after a summer when extreme heat, storms, and wildfires made more devastating by climate change have pummeled the nation and the world, the chance for state and regional progress on climate change in this election is not only a reason for hope but a possible harbinger of greater state and regional action to come.
And Washington carbon reductions matter. Washington is already warming up, and is experiencing impacts associated with climate change including increasingly destructive wildfires, decreased water runoff from snowpack, and rising sea levels, all resulting in devastating impacts to people and property. While opponents to I-1631, mostly out-of-state oil companies, claim that Washington can’t afford to price and reduce carbon emissions, the fact is that individuals, businesses, and taxpayers are already footing a very large bill for the damage done by global warming pollution and the price tag will continue to grow unless emissions can be dramatically reduced.
Big oil’s campaign of disinformation
The opposition has made I-1631 the most expensive initiative campaign in Washington history. The six out-of-state oil companies that are financing 99% of the more than $30 million pouring into the state to defeat the measure have also mounted one of the most cynical disinformation campaigns I’ve ever seen, saying the measure unfairly “exempts” polluters!
The oil industry’s desperate tactic of campaigning against “polluters” is absurd on its face and gives an indication–along with their eye-popping electoral investment–of how desperate the industry is to not let this initiative happen. The No campaign has been characterized by exaggerations and disinformation, including listing Latino business owners as opponents to the measure who actually support it. We’ve seen lies and disinformation from the western states oil industry many times before, as UCS has documented.
One issue that Big Oil is hammering on is the idea that the I-1631 polluter fee will cause gas prices to go way up. The initiative will definitely cost the oil industry money, but whether drivers feels those increases at the pump is another matter, as California learned in 2015 when it put a carbon price on oil. Big Oil promised in a huge PR campaign that the carbon price would cause California gasoline prices to spike, but instead prices actually decreased. This was an important lesson–that because oil is a global commodity, local fees and taxes are limited in terms of influencing what you pay at the pump. Far more important is what is happening to global supply and demand for oil (and by the way we can’t pump our way out of that situation domestically because the price of oil is set as a global commodity.) Significant oil price spikes are often the result of events we can’t control, like global conflicts in oil producing regions, supply chain disruptions- sometimes caused by climate change-influenced extreme weather- and refinery shutdowns or accidents.
One way to protect ourselves from oil price increases that we can have some control over is reducing our demand for gasoline, using low-carbon and carbon-free transportation fuels and alternatives that reduce our need for petroleum-derived and other carbon-intensive fuel sources. The kinds of measures that will help reduce carbon fuel demand are exactly the types of investments that can be funded by the polluter fees under I-1631–yet another reason that oil money is flowing to stop this measure.
Believe scientists, not oil companies
If it passes, Washington will be the second west coast state after California to put a price on carbon. In 2019 Oregon could become the third. The combined carbon reduction influence of these three economic powerhouse states is enormous. The three states combined are in the top five largest economies globally, so to claim, as opponents of I-1631 have, that Washington’s contribution to carbon emissions reductions under the initiative wouldn’t make a difference are not looking at the bigger picture.
Scientists have led the way on climate action for decades while the oil industry has stood in their way and drowned out their warnings. More than 200 of Washington’s scientists are asking us to vote yes on 1631. We must accept the facts about climate change and listen to their warnings, not the lies of the fossil fuel companies, or the myths they are promulgating about I-1631.
Scientists understand that Washington’s actions alone won’t prevent global warming but will contribute to both desperately needed emissions reductions in the United States and to momentum to the global movement to dramatically reduce emissions if we are to have a positive future. UCS urges Washington voters not to succumb to the negative and misleading propaganda of the oil industry, but to believe the science, choose hope over fear, and support I-1631.