Getting the Facts Right on Washington’s I-1631

September 27, 2018 | 2:21 pm
John Westrock/Flickr
Julie McNamara
Senior Energy Analyst

This November, people in Washington have the chance to vote on I-1631, an initiative that would drive down carbon pollution and set the state on a forward course toward an economically robust and climate-resilient future.

I-1631 has impressive vision and far-reaching goals. It’s rigorous in design and thoughtfully advanced by a diverse set of stakeholders. It recognizes that fighting climate change doesn’t just mean reducing emissions; it also means investing in communities to ready them for climate impacts. The Union of Concerned Scientists proudly endorses I-1631.

But because this policy would flip the script on big polluters who have long been letting the public bear their costs, an aggressive opposition campaign has sprung up spouting desperate misdirections. Tellingly, the specter of accountability has rushed some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies into a defensive crouch, readily providing more than 99 percent of the opposition campaign’s multi-million dollar funds.

Yet while money can make noise, it can’t change the facts, and we’re here to shine a light on the truth. We’ve previously explored the specifics of the proposal; here, we debunk misleading opposition claims.



CLAIM: I-1631 will negatively impact the state’s economy.

FACT: I-1631 positions Washington to be a leader in the clean energy economy.

Climate action should not be assumed as in conflict with economic growth. In fact, states that have enacted climate policies have outperformed others across a range of economic indicators. For example, California, which has set aggressive climate targets and keeps going back for more, has only increased its economic dominance over the same period.

I-1631 presents an opportunity for Washington to solidify its status as a leader in the burgeoning clean energy economy, incentivizing good jobs that are built to last. At the same time, it also recognizes that some jobs will be lost as the state shifts away from fossil fuels, and thus proactively plans for sustained workforce transition support.

But preparing for the future isn’t enough—climate change is already imposing real and significant costs on communities all across the state. I-1631 would confront these challenges head-on, spurring necessary investments in things like boosting wildfire resilience and forest health and preparing for sea level rise and impacts on fisheries.

I-1631 sends the right signals and spurs the right actions to set the state on an economically robust and climate-resilient forward course.



CLAIM: I-1631 excuses the state’s largest polluters.

FACT: I-1631 covers the vast majority of carbon emissions in the state.

I-1631 covers the overwhelming majority of carbon emissions in the state by targeting major polluters like oil refineries, industrial facilities, and utilities that have not yet transitioned to clean energy. The proposal does, however, include two specific exemptions on this front.

The first involves coal plants already planned for closure by 2025 and is not a choice—it’s required due to a pre-existing closure settlement agreement.

The second involves careful targeting of specific Washington industries that are energy intensive and in direct competition with businesses in places without a comparable carbon fee. These select exemptions recognize that business shifting out of state would not reduce emissions yet would harm the workers and communities left behind, and thus are proposed as a hedge—not a permanent pass—until an even playing field is achieved. This includes industries like pulp and paper mills, iron and steel mills, and agricultural work.



CLAIM: I-1631 lacks accountability.

FACT: I-1631 requires accountability and oversight throughout.

I-1631 was designed over the course of many years and many, many stakeholder conversations. The end result is a policy that specifically works to put people first, and keep people first. And that means building in accountability and oversight from the start.

Specifically, the initiative calls for a 15-person public oversight board that would ensure rigorous implementation of the proposal, as well as accountability and public involvement. The board would include a full-time, governor-appointed chair, as well as a mix of state agency heads, advisory panel co-chairs, and four at-large positions including a tribal representative and a representative of vulnerable populations in pollution and health action areas.

Three investment advisory panels—environmental and economic justice, clean water and healthy forests, and clean air and clean energy—would serve to inform the board on program development and implementation.

Finally, I-1631 would require the Department of Commerce to develop an “effectiveness report,” subject to board review and approval, every four years beginning in December 2022. The report, intended to inform recommendations on improved program implementation, would not only track progress in achieving carbon reduction goals, but also characterize impacts on employment and jobs as well as risks and recommendations for vulnerable populations and affected workers.

Throughout, I-1631 requires financial support for all non-state employee board and panel participants to ensure full participation and representation.



CLAIM: The costs of I-1631 will be borne on the backs of workers and the poor.

FACT: I-1631 has specific provisions to facilitate workforce transition and to ensure those worst off receive the greatest support.

I-1631 recognizes that energy costs comprise a disproportionate share of bills for low-income households; therefore, the proposal specifically provides for a subset of funds to be used to ensure low-income populations are not left worse off because of the rule. This is to be achieved through investments that lower energy burdens, such as energy efficiency, weatherization, and transit projects, as well as through direct support like bill assistance.

The proposal also includes specific provisions to ensure that when the revenues get spent—whether for clean energy projects, community climate preparedness investments, or stormwater management initiatives—more than a third are to provide direct and meaningful benefits to pollution and health action areas, as well as a share formally supported by Indian tribes. This recognizes that the costs of pollution, of climate change, of transitions are not shared evenly, and that it will take concerted effort to ensure that all have access to clean air and clean water and climate-resilient communities.

But I-1631 isn’t just about protections, it’s also about opportunities—opportunities for good jobs that are built to last. The investments driven by I-1631 will power the vibrant and ever-growing clean energy economy, offering something of a “Green New Deal.” And as the state undertakes that shift away from fossil fuels, the proposal proactively supports assisting in the considerate transition of workers impacted along the way.



CLAIM: I-1631 is trying to trick people by calling itself a pollution “fee” instead of a “tax.”

FACT: I-1631 is specifically designed as a “fee” to ensure revenues are used for their intended purpose.

It’s no secret that I-1631 is a carbon pricing program, charging a set amount of money per set amount of emissions. This type of program is often referred to as a fee or a tax on carbon.

The critical difference lies in how revenues are used.

A central pillar of I-1631 is that collected revenues are deployed for a very specific set of initiatives. A “tax” would put revenues in a general fund, at risk of being redirected to any number of different government uses, whereas a “fee” ensures lasting control over how the revenues are spent.

Unlike the opposition, I-1631 faces the facts head-on

Here’s what we do know about I-1631:

  • It addresses a problem that people across Washington can simply no longer ignore: climate change is here, climate change is happening, and climate change demands action.
  • As of the end of September, fossil fuel companies accounted for more than 99 percent of the opposition campaign’s donations, chipping in over $20 million to fight a fee on their pollution. Credit: Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

    It faces the magnitude of the challenge head-on, charting a course toward an economically robust and climate-resilient future and then doing everything it can to catalyze the investments, the workforce, the science, and the action that will help get the state to that place.

  • It is supported by an incredibly broad and diverse coalition, with people representing the interests of labor, tribal nations, communities of color, environmental justice, health, faith, business, environment, and more all on board—and the movement is growing every day.
  • It anchors action in accountability and leads by looking out for those who for too long have been over looked.

Opponents of I-1631 are led by fossil fuel companies fighting to preserve a world where people pay and polluters profit.

Supporters of I-1631 are led by people fighting to realize a better and fairer future for Washington—for clean air, clean water, healthy forests, and the creation of jobs that are made to last.