Carbon fee back on the table for Washington state

Despite past voter rejection of similar proposals, Senate Transportation Committee chair Steve Hobbs rolled out a comprehensive funding package that would impose a carbon pollution fee and gas tax increase to fund transportation projects statewide.

Under the proposed package, which is moving through the Senate, consumers would pay an additional 6 cents per gallon in state tax at the pump. The money would go into a new Forward Washington Account to fund specific projects.

Sen. Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, is the prime sponsor of Senate Bills 5970, 5971 and 5972, which have received praise from both sides of the aisle for the careful consideration of their writing.

The three bills would authorize bonds for transportation funding, generate funds for transportation projects through fees and taxes, and distribute those funds to agencies across the state.

“Whether you agree with this package or not, whether you agree with the way we raise money, whether you agree with the way we spend it … it’s thoughtfully put together,” Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said during SB 5971’s public hearing. “It’s not just ‘here we go’ and throw the darts.”

Senate Bills 5970 and 5972 both have bipartisan sponsorship, but SB 5971— which would impose a carbon pollution fee beginning July 2020 — has only Democratic sponsorship.

Although no state in the nation imposes a carbon pollution fee or tax, if the measure is passed natural gas and electric utilities, fuel distributors and oil refineries would likely pay $10 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue.

In the November 2018 general election, 56 percent of Washington state voters rejected a carbon fee. Two years earlier, 59 percent rejected a carbon tax in the 2016 general election.

Some utility companies, including Clark Public Utilities headquartered in Vancouver, opposed the package because of the carbon pollution fee.

“It does not include protections from compounding of compliance costs related to potential passage of other carbon-related bills,” Clark’s Communications Manager Erica Erland said in an email. “We believe … it creates inequitable costs related to the electric sector for emissions stemming from transportation.”

SB 5971 was passed out of committee 8-7. The bill has been referred to the Rules Committee, but has not been scheduled for a floor debate yet.