Clark PUD opposes carbon tax plan

Initiative 732 wouldn’t reduce emissions, would cost utility and its customers millions, commissioner says

By Brooks Johnson, Columbian Business Reporter

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It’s already not easy being green, and Clark County’s public utility said a carbon tax on November’s ballot would make it even harder.

Clark Public Utilities commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution opposing Initiative 732, which would create a state carbon tax that commissioners say would cause electric rates to go up and state revenues to dive. The initiative aims to incentivize clean energy and would also lower the state sales tax 1 percent and cut business and occupation taxes for manufacturers.

“We feel a great responsibility to inform our customers of potential impacts if this initiative should pass,” Commissioner Nancy Barnes said by phone Tuesday. “If your concern is carbon, this is not going to address it.”

The utility gets 40 percent of its electricity from the River Road Generating Plant, a natural-gas plant that is a heavy carbon emitter.

The resolution passed at Tuesday morning’s meeting states costs of operating the plant would rise $10 million in 2017, $17.5 million in 2018 and up to $58 million per year after that.

The carbon tax would start at $15 per ton and rise to $25 per ton in 2018 with annual increases up to $100 per ton.

“I consider it more of a tax that they hoped we wouldn’t notice,” Barnes said, saying the initiative doesn’t direct money to clean energy and instead just puts it into the state’s general fund.

Backers of the initiative, Carbon Washington, say I-732 is needed to address climate change.

“Our policy will promote cleaner energy and clearer skies without making lower-income Washingtonians pay the bill,” according to yeson732.org. “And it will get the job done without expensive new regulations and bureaucracies.”

The initiative was sent to the state Legislature this year, which took no action on it. I-732 also promises to lower the state sales tax by 1 percent, greatly reduce business taxes for manufacturers and offer taxpayer rebates for low-income families.

According to the utility’s resolution, a state analysis showed the tax-swap would cost the state $914 million over four years.

“The commission believes that if Initiative 732 is voted into law it will not reduce the amount of carbon produced by the district’s operations (and) would be unnecessarily costly to its customers,” reads the resolution.