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Fact check: Ad takes aim at carbon fee Initiative 1631

If I-1631 is approved in November, Washington would become the first state to pass a carbon fee proposal through the initiative process.

A major initiative on Washington ballots this November takes aim at climate change with a new fee on carbon pollution. Initiative 1631 would impose a starting fee of $15 per ton on carbon emissions, starting in 2020, with 70 percent of the money raised invested in clean energy.

However, not everyone would be subject to the new fee, and the exemptions are the focus of a new attack ad by the opposition campaign.

“It's supposed to reduce pollution, but it exempts many of the state's largest polluters,” says small business owner Sabrina Jones of Spokane, in the television ad.

The “No on 1631” campaign points to the TransAlta coal-fired plant in Centralia as an example. It’s true that TransAlta would be exempt, and it’s also true that the plant is at the top of the state’s list of polluters. However, the ad fails to mention the plant is already scheduled for shut-down by 2025.

The list of other exemptions within the initiative includes aviation and maritime fuels, as well as “energy intensive, trade-dependent” businesses such as aluminum and steel. That means Alcoa in Ferndale would be exempt, as well as pulp and paper mills.

While the opposition campaign points out some of those mills appear to be within the state’s top dozen polluters, based on total CO2 emissions, the 1631 campaign argues that’s a misrepresentation, since state law considers wood emissions carbon neutral.

See state's greenhouse gas report

Supporters of the initiative say they are targeting fossil fuel emissions, meaning the carbon fee would focus on pollution from burning coal, oil and gas.

However, opponents argue “big corporations get a free ride, while Washington families, consumers and small businesses pay billions,” according to the No on 1631 ad.

The carbon fee is expected to raise more than two billion dollars during its first five fiscal years, according to analysis by the state’s Office of Financial Management.

Oil companies, utilities, and other emitters would pay the fee, but critics warn the cost would, in turn, be passed to the consumer, raising the price of electric bills and gas.

The estimated impact to the consumer varies on which side you ask. The 1631 campaign estimates around $10 per month per household; whereas critics estimate around $20 dollars a month per household in the initiative’s first year.

If approved in November, Washington would become the first state to pass a carbon fee proposal through the initiative process. According to the initiative, a special board comprised of stakeholders would be created to develop the strategy for creating a new clean energy infrastructure with the revenue raised.

Seventy percent of the funds would go to clean jobs, transportation, and efficiency upgrades, according to the measure. Twenty-five percent would go to efforts to preserve water and forests and five percent would be invested in local communities, particularly those impacted most by pollution.

Big spending is expected by both sides in the weeks to come. The No on 1631 campaign has already raised more than $16 million; top donors include big oil and gas companies. Supporters of 1631 have raised more than $5 million, to date.

Related: Voters to decide on Washington carbon fee this fall

Full text of Initiative 1631

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