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Friday, February 23, 2024
Feb. 23, 2024

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Opponents of WA climate law submit signatures to repeal it


KENT — In one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, in one of the most expensive states for gasoline, backers of an effort to repeal Washington’s carbon market said Tuesday they have enough signatures to put it before lawmakers and possibly voters next year.

They submitted more than 400,000 signatures for Initiative 2117, which would repeal the climate law, they said. The initiative will require 324,516 valid signatures to make it to the ballot and the signatures must be verified by the Secretary of State’s Office.

It’s one of six initiatives mostly seeking to roll back laws passed by the Democratic-majority Legislature that supporters of Let’s Go Washington, bankrolled by Redmond businessman Brian Heywood, are trying to get before voters next year.

The 2021 Climate Commitment Act created a carbon-pricing system for greenhouse gas emissions, and the system got off the ground this year. So far, auctions for carbon allowances have raised $1.5 billion.

Under the law, the state’s biggest polluters must reduce their emissions.

The carbon-pricing program is the cornerstone of the Climate Commitment Act, which requires companies to buy allowances to cover those emissions. Over the coming years, the state will reduce the number of available allowances, creating pressure for industries to lower emissions.

The goal is for Washington to be mostly carbon-free by 2050 in an effort to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, which set an international framework to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Opponents of the climate law have blamed it for the state’s high gasoline prices. According to AAA, on Tuesday, Washington gasoline prices were roughly $4.43 a gallon for regular gas, while the U.S. average was about $3.30 per gallon.

On Tuesday, at a news conference at a Kent gasoline station parking lot, Heywood joined other backers of the initiative, displaying a truckload of boxes filled with petitions. The petitions were delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office in Tumwater, Thurston County, on Tuesday afternoon.

Heywood, the managing partner and CEO of the hedge fund Taiyo Pacific Partners, slammed state lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee for pushing through the law targeting carbon emissions despite voters twice rejecting previous efforts to impose a carbon tax.

“That’s not the job of the government to put this burden on people’s backs,” said Heywood, who called the law a “cynical money grab” that has not improved the environment but has benefitted “political friends and allies” of top Democrats.

Supporters of the Climate Commitment Act criticized the campaign to repeal it as a misguided effort that would roll back its progress on cutting carbon emissions.

“This is not the time to put the brakes on Washington’s premier and effective climate policy that is backed by businesses, labor, tribes, community groups and environmental organizations. It is not the time to deny the clear scientific evidence that more, not less, needs to be done to address climate change,” said Michael Mann, executive director of Clean and Prosperous Washington, a coalition of groups that support the law.

Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, chair of the Senate’s environment committee, said money from the Climate Commitment Act is “already providing major benefits to the people of Washington,” including heat pumps and solar panels for farmers and low-income households, and improving safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

“Washington is leading the way to a cleaner, greener future, and we can’t stop our climate progress,” Nguyen said. “We need to defeat climate change and rein in the pollution that the oil and gas industry is causing across our state and nation — the Climate Commitment Act is how we make that happen.”

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, chair of the Senate committee on transportation, said that without the climate law, “critical investments” in the state’s transportation infrastructure were at risk.

“Right as our economy is beginning to recover from the pandemic, we shouldn’t jeopardize this progress,” Liias said. “Washington families can’t afford to spend more time stuck in traffic or blocked by a failing bridge, and our kids can’t keep breathing polluted air.”

Critics of the climate law have assailed Inslee and other supporters for consistently downplaying its effect on gasoline prices.

At the Kent event, I-2117 supporters displayed a sign with an enlarged quote from Inslee, who claimed in 2022 the law would have a minimal impact on prices. “Pennies,” he said at the time. “We are talking about pennies.”

Inslee and environmental groups have blamed oil company greed for higher gas prices in Washington, pointing to reports that Big Oil more than doubled its profits last year to more than $200 billion.

In Tumwater, a handful of protesters against the repeal effort stood nearby as petitioners turned in their signatures, holding signs, including one showing a graph of oil industry profits.

Kimberly Larson, of Climate Solutions, helped hold a sign saying, “Polluters win you lose.”

“We have one of the highest profit margins for the country,” Larson said. “[The] oil industry right now could change that. But they’re choosing not to. They’re choosing to pass the cost on to consumers.”

This summer, Nguyen and House Majority Leader Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle, said they were drafting legislation to require more transparency from oil companies.

Heywood has been a main funder of the anti-climate policy initiative and five others targeting tax, crime and education polices. He has poured more than $5.4 million in contributions and loans into the effort to secure spots for them on next year’s ballot through a paid signature-gathering campaign, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

The other five initiatives would: repeal the state’s capital gains tax on the wealthiest residents; eliminate some restrictions on when police can pursue criminal suspects in cars; allow workers to opt out of the state’s new long-term care tax; prohibit cities and counties from imposing local income taxes; and give parents authority to review public school textbooks and demand notification for medical services and opt their kids out of sex education.

Qualifying all six for the ballot would amount to “sort of a political earthquake — and so, welcome to the Thunderdome,” Heywood said.

Supporters of the measures have until Dec. 29 to turn in enough valid signatures of registered voters.

If they clear that hurdle, the measures will go before the Legislature for consideration at its session starting in January.

Lawmakers can adopt and pass the proposals into law as written — something the Democratic majority is unlikely to consider.

If they take no action or reject the proposals, the initiatives would appear on the November 2024 ballot for voters to decide. Lawmakers can also decide to place alternative proposals on the ballot for voters to consider.