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Carbon fee faltering in early returns, but soda tax ban and gun, police reforms look likely to pass

FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2018, file photo, a supporter of Initiative 1631 holds a sign referencing the Nisqually Indian Tribe during a rally supporting I-1631, a November ballot measure in Washington state that would charge a fee on carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Money has poured into the state for the campaign against I-1631, mostly from oil companies.
FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2018, file photo, a supporter of Initiative 1631 holds a sign referencing the Nisqually Indian Tribe during a rally supporting I-1631, a November ballot measure in Washington state that would charge a fee on carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Money has poured into the state for the campaign against I-1631, mostly from oil companies. AP Photo

The nation’s first carbon fee might have to wait, as early election night returns showed Washington state voters are down on Initiative 1631, which would generate billions of dollars to combat climate change by imposing a $15-per-ton fee on large carbon emitters.

The initiative trailed 56.3 percent to 43.7 percent more than an hour after results started coming in.

Oil and gas companies spent nearly $30 million attacking the carbon fee proposal, which critics said would impose an undue burden on residents by causing gas and electricity prices to rise, exempted too many large polluters and lacked oversight for how the revenue would be spent on environmental projects.

Carbon fee opponents were rooting for the initiative’s defeat, which they say would finally prompt the state’s Legislature to act.

“It means for the state that we (can) actually get to the point where we address climate change with a serious solution in the legislature,” said Dana Bieber, a spokeswoman for No on 1631. “Climate change is a serious issue, and it deserves a serious response. But that’s where 1631 fails. We need a solution that doesn’t exempt the largest polluters in the state. We need a solution that actually will make significant reductions in greenhouse gases.”

Bieber said a victory for her side would mean that Washington voters are fact-driven.

“We have been running a high-road, fact-based campaign,” she said. “Washington voters are smart. And they look at the facts.”

Nick Abraham, a spokesman for the Yes on 1631 campaign, accused the opposition of misleading voters.

“The oil industry was willing to do anything to beat this,” he said, referring to the millions that fossil fuel groups contributed to the No on 1631 campaign. “We need to have a better handle on money just flooding our system”

Abraham said he was proud that Yes on 1631 was able to unite such a diverse group of interests, from the Washington State Medical Association to Native American tribes and the religious community.

“We know that this coalition is unprecedented, and we want this to continue. We’ve shown that this can work, regardless of the results,” he said. “We’re going to be continuing to fight in next year’s legislature. We will come back with new ways to solve this problem.”

Meanwhile, Initiative 1634, which would ban local governments from enacting taxes on groceries — like Seattle’s soda tax — appeared on the way to victory, 54.8 percent to 45.2 percent.

Soda companies spent $20 million pushing the initiative, which proponents said will protect against potential taxes on meat, dairy and juice. But Jesse Jones-Smith, an associate professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health, said she hadn’t seen “any evidence” that the initiative was intended as anything but a soda tax ban.

“To me, it seems like it’s meant to preempt any additional soda taxes in local cities,” she said.

The initiative’s success would close the door on other Washington cities hoping to follow Seattle’s lead.

Progressives appeared on track for victories on two other ballot measures.

By 60.4 percent to 39.6 percent, voters seemed likely to approve Initiative 1639, which would restrict semi-automatic rifle purchases in Washington. The proposal would raise the legal purchasing age to 21, implement background checks and waiting periods and impose storage requirements for all guns.

Voters also seemed likely to pass Initiative 940, which was leading 59.2 percent to 40.8 percent. The proposal would make it easier to prosecute police officers in Washington for use of deadly force and require them to receive mental health, first-aid and de-escalation training.

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