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.