Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Pushes Nation's First Carbon Tax

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee takes questions from reporters, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee takes questions from reporters, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is pushing a first-in-the-nation state plan to tax carbon emissions. Revenues from the carbon tax would fund clean-energy projects around the state.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson talks with Inslee (@GovInslee), who's just back from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He was the only U.S. governor there.

The carbon tax, which would start at $20 per ton in mid-2019 and increase annually, faces an uncertain future in the state legislature. Inslee says that despite President Trump being “no help” on climate change, his state is moving forward without federal support.

"Donald Trump cannot stop my state from fighting climate change," Inslee says. "He cannot stop us from adopting a renewable portfolio standard. He cannot stop us from developing a carbon tax."

Interview Highlights

On why a carbon tax will pass this time after previous efforts failed

"No. 1: The public really is understanding the critical nature of this existential threat. What used to be a graph on a chart are now our forests burning down and hurricanes and massive precipitation events, so this is something people are now experiencing in their own lives and their own retinas, and they understand we have to act. No. 2: We are learning that we can grow our jobs by having clean energy jobs and that has been very successful in our state.

"And No. 3: We finally we have some Democrats who are in the majority in our state legislature, so we have a chance to actually tee it up for discussion. So we feel very excited that this is another opportunity for Washington to do what we do well, which is to innovate and build a high-tech future in clean energy, and we're doing it big time."

On why the state is pushing a carbon tax instead of a cap-and-trade policy

"We found [a carbon tax] had more support in the legislature. It is a more stable source to finance the research and the deployment to help these clean energy jobs develop. A cap-and-trade system is a little more volatile, depends on supply and demand. So [a carbon tax] does have some advantages of predictability and stability, but the really big advantage is we got a shot at passing it in legislature.

"But one way or another, it does create what we need, which is an investment fund to help people get access to electric cars, to solar energy, for businesses to be able to retrofit their existing energy systems to become more efficient, less polluting. This is what our state needs, and it's a good way to get it."

On moving forward with fighting climate change despite Trump

"We are masters of our own destiny, and we're not alone. We have 14 other states and one territory. We have a group called the United States Climate Alliance, and all of these states are allied in committing to meet our international targets for CO2 reduction, and we're moving ahead.

"And by the way this would, this group of states — it represents 40 percent of the U.S. economy — would be the third-largest economy in the world if it were a separate nation. And I'm not suggesting it be a separate nation, but what we do need to move forward and we are. No one has followed Donald Trump off the edge of the cliff here. He's a one-man parade. There hasn't been a single mayor or governor or president or prime minister in the entire world who has followed him."

On criticism a carbon tax would hurt the poor

"We are sensitive to that, and in our plan, we're providing some measures to recycle some of those funds to low-income folks for energy costs. And if you think about these things and do this in a sensitive, thoughtful matter, you both grow jobs, you help neighbors, you reduce pollution, you reduce the respiratory problems our kids are suffering, and you grow your economy.

"And that's the interesting thing about this is that the evidence is so much more powerful than the fear. And now the pessimists who don't think we can grow a clean energy economy, they like to play on people's fears that we can't do this, but the evidence is clear we can. You look at British Columbia, they have a carbon tax, but they have the best economy in Canada. California is moving forward. Eight Northeast states have had a price on carbon from their utilities for years, and their economies are very robust. At the same time we're not hurting low-income people. So this is a situation where if we make decisions based on evidence and just one ounce of a can-do spirit, this country is going to do what it's always done, which is to grow and lead the world. And it's time to do that again, Trump or no Trump."

This article was originally published on January 29, 2018.

This segment aired on January 29, 2018.



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