In 2016, it was easy to reject Washington Initiative 732.
A response to climate change, I-732's carbon tax could not draw a unified response from its own base. If organized labor, Democrats and environmentalists could not agree, why would anyone want to follow?
Nearly 60 percent voted against it.
Two years later, virtually all those same groups are part of a broad-based coalition that is solidly behind a new carbon fee measure - Initiative 1631 - at a time when the situation has become more dire.
At its core, I-1631 draws on the same general premise: Discourage the use of fossil fuels by raising the price. It would begin in 2020 with a $15 per metric ton fee and escalate about $2 per ton plus inflation each year thereafter until greenhouse emission standards are met in 2035.
Rather than a straightforward tax shift - I-732 would have used carbon fees to pay down sales and B&O taxes - this measure proposes to allocate an estimated $1 billion annually toward incentivizing cleaner energy sources:
- 70 percent would pay for investments in technologies that reduce air pollution.
- 25 percent would go toward cleaner water and healthier forests.
- 5 percent would underwrite efforts to help communities adversely affected by climate change.
At last $50 million would be devoted toward helping fossil fuel workers who are displaced by the transition toward greener technologies.
With a few notable exceptions, including former state Auditor Brian Sonntag and University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences Cliff Mass, the opposition comes from where you'd expect - the oil industry.
It has reportedly shelled out more than $22 million so far on an advertising campaign that takes aim at the following:
- Higher fuel prices - Depending on whose figures are used, it could lead to a 14-cent per gallon gasoline spike.
- Fairness - While consumers take a hit, some of Washington's biggest and most politically influential industries, such as aircraft, maritime, pulp and paper and agriculture, are exempt.
- Accountability - A board of 15 gubernatorial appointees, not the Legislature, decides how to allocate the funds.
- Practicality - It may not deliver the desired reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
When you get into those kinds of weeds, the default position is to vote no - and wait for a better plan to emerge, possibly from the Washington Legislature.
Clearly, that's what the oil industry-financed campaign hopes you'll do.
But in the two years since voters rejected the earlier attempt to reign in greenhouse gases, the situation has become more serious.
Two years ago, you had President Barack Obama's acknowledgment of climate change and a commitment to follow the 2015 Paris Agreement..
Now you have President Donald Trump's assertion that climate change is a hoax, his commitment to ramp up coal production and his intended withdrawal from the Paris accords.
Two years ago, you thought you were protecting the world for your descendants.
Now it's a matter of naked self-interest.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global warming is occurring on a scale much greater than earlier understood.
It took a 1-degree Celsius increase to unleash violent storms, forest fires and droughts. But within as little as 11 years - and certainly within 20 years - warming will reach 2 degrees Celsius.
The initiative's backers are asking a lot of the people of Washington. How can one state in one corner of North America alter a global crisis?
Ask instead: What is the alternative?
To wait on a Legislature that has deadlocked on enacting its own carbon tax?
To hope that the 2020 election brings a new administration more committed to saving the planet?
To believe a supermajority of Americans will rise up and overcome gerrymandered Republican congressional districts, a Senate where the voice of rural America is amplified and an Electoral College that has thwarted the popular vote twice in five elections?
Initiative campaigns exist precisely for times such as these. When the elected representatives become unable or unwilling to act, people can take charge of the levers of making their own laws.
The results frequently are imperfect. I-1631 is no exception.
At least it offers this promise: If people in the Evergreen State can embrace change, can progressive states such as California, Oregon or Minnesota be far behind?
"In the spirit of the proverb, 'We don't inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,' it's our responsibility to take the lessons we've learned from the past to lead by example and shape a brighter future," former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and former Environmental Protection Administrator William Ruckelshaus wrote recently in the Seattle Times. "By passing I-1631, Washingtonians can help create a roadmap for progress that will make future generations proud."
Vote yes and your grandchildren might thank you.
Vote no and you may want that vote back in 11 years.
I-1631 is far from perfect. No ballot measure ever is. You can either take a reasonable step forward or stand still when time is not your ally.
Vote yes. - M.T.