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After I-1631, what’s next for trying to put a price on fossil fuels in Washington state? – 11/9/18

Initiative 1631 has gained less than 44 percent of the yes votes. The results underscore how tough it is to muster sufficient political support for putting a price on oil, natural gas and coal emissions — even in Washington, a stronghold of the environmental movement.

For the past four years, a big policy proposal has dominated the climate-change policy debate in Washington state: how to put a price on the state’s oil, natural gas and coal emissions that are helping to warm the world.

The resounding defeat for Initiative 1631 in Tuesday’s election marks the latest failed effort to pass such a measure, and proponents are unsure of their strategy once the Legislative convenes next year. Bills to spur a transition to cleaner sources of energy are likely to be introduced, but putting a price on carbon – which generally means making fossil fuels more expensive to discourage their use – faces an uncertain future in Washington state.

“We want to do something,” said Nick Abraham, a Yes on 1631 spokesman. “But I don’t think that our coalition is ready to make the call yet what that will be.”

A recent United Nations report described carbon pricing as an essential tool for fighting climate change. But the 2018 election results underscore the difficulties in mustering enough political support — even in Washington, a stronghold of the environmental movement where Gov. Jay Inslee has made the issue a priority and endorsed Initiative 1631 in TV ads.

The ballot measure would have raised more than $1 billion by 2023 for a governor-appointed board to spend on: reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and helping the state prepare for rising sea levels, larger wildfires and other impacts expected from climate change. And by increasing fossil-fuel costs, the measure was intended to speed the transition to renewable and other sources of zero-carbon energy.

The measure attracted national attention as a potential model for environmental action at the state level.

At the same time, I-1631 galvanized record opposition spending — largely from oil companies — of more than $31 million, which financed an advertising blitz that warned of economic pain to consumers and small businesses. Estimates varied greatly on how much I-1631 would cost Washington residents depending on where people lived, how much they drive, and how they heat and obtain electricity for their homes. A family with two cars in Bellevue, for example, would have paid more than $240 annually in carbon fees in 2020, and more as the fee increased through the decade, according to a Seattle Times estimate.