Those hoping to see states pick up the federal government’s slack on climate change action were disappointed last week, when Washington State’s carbon-tax bill failed to earn enough votes in the legislature, according to the Seattle Times. The state would have been the first to implement a straightforward carbon tax, and the legislation has been followed nationally, as a barometer of whether states will be able to take climate action into their own hands as the Trump administration rolls back federal measures.
Governor Jay Inslee told the Associate Press that they were “one or two votes shy” in the Democrat-dominated state senate. Inslee remained optimistic, saying:
“I would consider this a sea change in the climate fight. It’s come a long way from where we’ve been. We’ve basically shown that carbon policy is within reach. On the arc of history, we’re not quite far along enough on the arc. That day will come, but it wasn’t quite here yet.”
But other observers were less sanguine. According to University of Michigan professor Barry Rabe, of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the failure of the bill shows “that political support for a carbon tax does remain one of the heaviest lifts in American politics.”
“Even in a state like Washington where you have a governor who is enthusiastically in favor, a Legislature that seems to lean to the idea, this proves difficult to do at least at this point,” according to Rabe.
Oregon will soon decide whether to implement a “cap and trade” policy, in which companies bid for the right to emit a limited amount of carbon emissions. But this would not be as groundbreaking as Washington’s measure, as California, as well as Quebec and Ontario, also use cap and trade programs. The closest thing to a North American carbon tax in place is in British Columbia, where carbon is now taxed at $30 per ton. But a shale boom has sent emissions rising there nonetheless.
A bill like Washington’s would raise gas prices, electricity bills, and home heating costs, though it would not have charged for “embedded carbon emissions” in consumer goods such as household cleaners.
Given the planning needed for such a bill, this was likely the last opportunity to enact a state level carbon tax until 2020 – which means Democrats running in the next presidential primary will lack a state program on which to model a carbon tax.