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Infighting
Washington’s Green Civil War

Lost amidst the hubbub of the surprising election results this week have been some important ballot measures, one of the most interesting of which occurred in Washington state, where a proposal to implement a carbon tax fell far short of the required votes because—get this—a green coalition thought the policy didn’t go far enough. The WSJ reports:

The proposal, Initiative 732, would have imposed a new tax on gasoline and other fossil fuels and cut the state’s sales tax and taxes on manufacturers, while giving tax credits to low-income earners. It garnered only 41.5% of the vote after encountering opposition from some environmental groups as well as energy companies and large power users.

The Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists and some other environmental groups said they opposed it because they didn’t expect it to boost renewable energy. They also said the mix of tax increases and cuts would be a net negative for the state financially. […]

The Audubon Society and thousands of individuals provided financial support to pass the measure, sponsored by a group called Carbon Washington.

The details of this ballot measure are many, and the story is too complicated to tell in any sort of depth here. If you’re interested in taking a look at a rare intra-green battle, read this excellent (and long) run-down of I-732 by Vox‘s David Roberts.

If you just want the cliffs notes, this proposal was drawn up to be a revenue-neutral carbon tax (though its opponents have cast doubt on that fact), and while it generated support from some of Washington’s green groups and voters, it also upset a larger contingent of environmentalists who were concerned that it wouldn’t generate enough cash, and that that money wouldn’t be spent on those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In short, the greens who opposed this measure took issue with its revenue neutrality, thinking it didn’t go far enough.

At the national level, environmentalists need to understand that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is the only possible way to get this sort of policy on the books, and even then it will be an uphill battle to convince a skeptical voting public to go along. Ultimately, a revenue-neutral carbon tax would make a lot of sense; it would help address an environmental externality without increasing the tax burden on citizens. But if one of the country’s greenest-minded states can’t set aside internal bickering over how far this tax might go, or how it might be implemented, the odds of its being rolled out nationwide are slim-to-none. That’s certainly true for the next four years under President-elect Donald Trump’s Administration (he doesn’t believe in the science behind climate change), but it’s true in the years beyond, too.

If greens were smart, they would realistically assess their options and balance practicality against their pie-in-the-sky hopes for a more verdant planet. Unfortunately, the modern environmental movement has proven itself incapable of making the necessary compromises to effect real change, as we have seen time and again. Washington’s ballot measure is just the latest example.

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  • Fat_Man

    One of the pillars of Obama domestic policy agenda in 2008 was a carbon tax. It was not revenue neutral. It was intended to pay for Obamacare. A bill got through the House, although it was chewed up pretty badly by the Agriculture committee. It never got out of committee in the Senate. It was not revived after 2010.

  • rpabate

    What Trump needs to do right away is change the EPA’s funding paradigm from anthropogenic forcing to natural forcing. By the end of his first term there will start to be a balance in the science. When the only street lamp lit is the anthropogenic forcing street lamp, then that is where all climate scientists will look for their funding. The science is broken. What we have today is evidence-based policy, not policy based evidence. Climate science is faith-based science.

    • Blackbeard

      What Trump needs to o is take steps that can’t easily be reversed by Democrats when they are back in power.

      I say shut down the EPA as a first step.

      • rpabate

        You could be right, but then if the Democrats win a future election they will merely reconstitute it. In addition, if he did that, the Democrats would claim that Republicans were anti-Environment. By changing the EPA funding paradigm, he may be able to influence other countries to do the same (I suspect that his win may also result in a similar shift in other countries, such as parts of the EU, and in NZ and Australia), and it would prove to the world that there is another side to the science. Even if those scientists that have fully bought into the “alarmism” (and I suspect many have as otherwise they would have to be dealing with cognitive dissidence), I assume there are many other scientists who have been ignored and/or gored by the “alarmists” and would welcome the opportunity to put forth another opinion.

        I think that Trump, and all of us, need to start labeling climate science as it exists today a faith-based science It is faith-based because there are aspects of it that have not been tested according to the scientific method, and founded on objective truths of nature.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Good idea, but impractical. The political support to do it simply doesn’t exist, and that isn’t a hill to die on. Starve it, yes, cripple it and make sure that the long-term ‘crats running the place are sidelined, transferred, and career-stunted. These are things that don’t require a ton of political support, but will get the job done.
        In the meantime, start working on building up political capital for the next steps, defunding and destroying the thing once and for all. It won’t happen soon, but it is a worthy goal.

  • LarryD

    And when has a carbon tax produced the revenues predicted? For that matter, a lot of proposals have never produced the revenue predicted. And legislatures rarely deliver promised spending cuts, either.

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