Cap and Trade Moves Forward Over Republican and Some Democratic Opposition

Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

By Leo Brine

After a five-hour debate, the Democratic majority in the state Senate narrowly passed a cap-and-trade bill (SB 5126) last Thursday night on a 25-24 vote. The bill taxes large companies that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by requiring them to buy permits from the state to compensate for every ton of carbon dioxide they produce.

The proceeds from the permits would go into a new Climate Investment Account that would fund things like greenhouse gas mitigation, clean transportation and transportation alternatives, and clean energy programs.

Republican senators prolonged the debate with 45 amendments; they passed three of them.

Later in the night, and with much more ease, Democratic senators passed the House’s clean fuels bill (HB 1091). Governor Jay Inslee had requested both bills.

Three Democrats voted no: Bob Hasegawa (D-11, Seattle); Liz Lovelett (D-40, Anacortes); and Kevin Van De Wege (D-24, Sequim). Every Republican voted against the bill.

None of the three amendments Republicans passed alter the underlying framework of the bill. One directs the Department of Ecology to create a website showing which companies are participating in cap-and-trade program; another requires the department to notify the legislature when a company is no longer part of the program—a political move by Republicans to demonstrate that cap and trade doesn’t work.

Republican senators spent most of the five-hour floor debate giving speeches about how much the bill, in their view, would ultimately cost working-class Washingtonians.

Republicans such as Senator Doug Ericksen (R-42, Bellingham), said the bill—which he referred to exclusively as “cap-and-tax”—would force companies to raise the prices on their goods, specifically on gas, and pass the cost on to consumers. Judy Warnick, another Republican senator (R-13, Moses Lake), said she was taking a stand for mom-and-pop farms and ranchers who would also need to lower the emissions in their production process under the bill.

Moderate Democratic Senator Mark Mullet (D-5, Issaquah) added an amendment that gives industries that are vulnerable to foreign competition, like steel and oil refineries, more time to reduce the amount of carbon emissions in their production process. The amendment also gives the companies free emissions permits while they make their adjustments. But the companies will have to lower their emissions at pro-rated, faster rates once the adjustment period ends.

Some Democratic senators, like freshman Senator T’wina Nobles (D-28, Tacoma) had issues with the bill, arguing that it does not lower emissions fast enough or low enough and is unclear on how it will invest in and assist communities who have been negatively impacted by air pollution because of their proximity to highways.

Cap-and-trade is not a new concept, nor has it always been a success at reducing carbon emissions. In 2006, California passed a cap-and-trade bill meant to serve as model for other states and countries. However, since passing the bill, emissions in the state have gone up. SB 5126 is more stringent than earlier legislation, requiring polluters to reduce emissions by steadily increasing amounts and investing revenues in programs that, in theory, will make it easier for companies to transition to greener forms of energy.

Democratic senators in Washington state proposed a carbon tax bill (SB 5373) that would have taxed the state’s biggest polluters based on how many tons of carbon dioxide they emit in a year, but the bill never made it out of the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology committee. The committee is chaired by Sen. Carlyle, the cap-and-trade bill’s primary sponsor.

The bill will now go to the House where it will likely be sent to the Environment and Energy committee.

Democratic senators also managed to pass the clean fuels bill, late in the night, 27-20. Senator Steve Hobbs (D-44, Everett) was the only Democrat to vote against the bill.

Environmental groups like Climate Solutions and Washington Conservation Voters considered the bill’s passage a major win—they’ve been trying for years to get the bill through the Senate. However, senators passed amendments to the bill extending carbon reduction deadlines, which environmental groups want to see reversed so that that Washington can begin transitioning to—and subsidizing—clean fuels and energy right away.

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