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Petitions filed for initiative to erase Washington's ambitious climate law

Washington’s controversial carbon pricing scheme drew fire and praise Tuesday as critics turned in signatures for an initiative to repeal the program, while its architects, including the governor, vowed to fight the measure should it reach the ballot.

Shortly before 1 p.m., opponents, led by a hedge fund manager and the leader of the state Republican Party, delivered 24 boxes of signed petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office in Tumwater.

Standing on the building’s steps, Brian Heywood, founder of Let’s Go Washington and chief financier of the signature-gathering effort, said 418,399 signatures were turned in for Initiative 2117 to erase the Climate Commitment Act.

The two-year-old law imposes annual limits on greenhouse gas emissions for major emitters such as oil refiners and utilities, and requires them to obtain allowances for each metric ton of pollution. The state has raised roughly $1.6 billion so far from allowance auctions.

Foes led by Heywood and state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, contend the ambitious policy is driving fuel, food and energy prices higher as polluters pass the expense onto families. They call it a hidden tax.

“We want the planet to be clean. We don’t want polluters to get off scot-free. Frankly, what the carbon tax does is it allows polluters to get off scot-free,” he told a couple dozen supporters gathered in Tumwater. “They just pass the cost on.”

Walsh, who also chairs the Washington State Republican Party, said the “ineffective and expensive” policy needs repealing, either by the Legislature or voters.

A couple hours later, Gov. Jay Inslee touted the benefits of the law in a visit to an electric vehicle charging facility in King County. It is an example of where proceeds from the auction of pollution allowances will be invested, he said.

Before arriving there, he had sharp words for those with designs on getting rid of it.

“Basically, my message is not in our house. Washington state is not a climate denial place,” he said at a ribbon cutting for the Olympic Heritage Behavioral Health psychiatric hospital.

“It is a place that wants to fight climate change, and it wants to help Washingtonians get what they need, which is clean, reasonably priced, efficient energy, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said. “We are certainly not going to cut our state off at the ankles and go backwards.”

What’s next

To get the repeal measure on the ballot, backers will need to have turned in signatures of at least 324,516 valid registered voters. Election officials will need to verify all the signatures; the backers needed to collect far more than the minimum number to account for any that might be found to be invalid.

Because it is an initiative to the Legislature, if it has the requisite number of signatures it will first be sent to lawmakers who can adopt it as written in the 2024 session. They also can reject or refuse to act on it, in which case it will go on the November 2024 ballot.

Heywood, who’s put up roughly $5 million thus far, committed Tuesday to provide significant additional sums for campaigns next year to pass this measure.

Groups are already organizing on the other side. Some of their members showed up at Let’s Go Washington events in Kent and Tumwater Tuesday.

Polling conducted in early October by Service Employees International Union 775 and Washington Conservation Action found 40% backed and 34% opposed Initiative 2117 when simply told the ballot title.

While support remained steady, opposition rose to 49% when participants heard the measure would reduce funding for carbon emission reduction and air quality improvement programs.

“We are confident that voters will choose to continue making sure polluters pay for the harm they have and are causing,” said Lennon Bronsema, vice president of campaigns for Washington Conservation Action on Tuesday.. “This initiative would take all the money away that is building healthier communities project by project and job by job.”

One down, five to go

Repealing the cap-and-invest program anchors the broader Republican-driven strategy to use initiatives to try to undo major social, fiscal and environmental policies pushed through by Democratic legislators and Inslee in spite of staunch GOP opposition in the Legislature.

Signatures are expected to be turned in for Initiative 2109 to repeal the capital gains tax that netted nearly $900 million this year, and for Initiative 2124 to retool the rules for the new payroll deduction for long-term care insurance.

There also are measures to create a parental bill of rights, to ease restrictions on the conduct of police pursuits and to ban an income tax.

The deadline for submitting signatures is Dec. 29.


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