In Our View: United Front Needed

Clean-energy movement must reach consensus on carbon tax to fight emissions

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Despite Washington’s bona fides as a politically green state, advocates for a carbon tax have had difficulty gaining any traction for their ideas. Proposals by Gov. Jay Inslee have garnered little more than yawns in the Legislature, and voters soundly rejected Initiative 732 last year.

Next year will provide another opportunity for a tax designed to reduce carbon emissions throughout the state. And with more and more Americans understanding the role that human activity plays in climate change — and the impact of that change — the odds of mounting a meaningful fight against emissions are increasingly strong.

That, however, presents a dilemma for advocates. In order to garner public backing for a ballot measure, supporters must first present a united front.

That was not the case in 2016, when the electorate rejected I-732 with 59 percent of the vote. The cap-and-trade proposal attracted opposition even from some environmental groups and from Inslee. The Columbian editorially opposed I-732 largely because the state Office of Financial Management concluded that the economic assumptions did not add up and the measure would be costly to the state.

Initiative 732 was pushed by Carbon Washington, and its appearance on the ballot led other environmental advocates to withdraw plans for their own ballot measure. Placing two similar initiatives in front of voters does not automatically disqualify them, but it makes it difficult for the public to distinguish between the two and decide which is preferable.

Because of that, notice from the Quinnault Indian Nation that the tribe plans to put forth a carbon initiative for 2018 is disconcerting. The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy also is preparing a ballot measure, and it is essential for the groups to work together and find common ground rather than dividing the clean-energy movement. A fractured environmental message is a likely path to defeat.

That would be disappointing, given the need to address carbon emissions. While conservatives — up to and including President Donald Trump — long have decried climate change as a hoax, public sentiment continues to fall more in line with what scientists have been saying for years. The visual evidence of intense wildfires throughout the Western United States and devastating storms in the Southeast have had more influence than years of academic papers, satellite photos and documentaries.

Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said: “I’m a Republican. I believe that the greenhouse effect is real, that CO2 emissions generated by man is creating our greenhouse gas effect that traps heat, and the planet is warming. A price on carbon — that’s the way to go in my view.”

We encourage other conservatives to consider the evidence, rather than the rhetoric, and to recognize the need to reduce carbon emissions. We encourage them also to embrace the economic opportunities presented by clean energy and to pursue policies that pave the way for the economy of the future. Even if one believes climate change is a hoax, there are environmental and economic benefits to limiting carbon emissions and developing alternative energy sources.

Washington is well-positioned to lead the way, with an environmentally conscious populace and with many clean-energy programs already in place. But a carbon tax remains tough to sell to the public.

That requires a delicate balancing act on the part of advocates. Before sending a proposal to voters, supporters must reach consensus that presents a united front on how best to battle climate change.