State senate hearing on I-732 carbon tax: Growing speculation that dueling climate measures may appear on November ballot

Ever since Initiative 732, a nearly-revenue-neutral carbon tax measure, qualified as an initiative to the Legislature, there have been questions about what, if any, alternatives would be proposed. We wrote in December that a more aggressive regulatory cap-and-trade measure could join I-732 on the November ballot. At Tuesday’s Senate hearing discussion turned to another alternative, as Washington State Wire reports.

Amidst all of the arguments for and against I-732, a lingering question remains: will the legislature pass an I-732 B that will end up on the ballot next to Carbon WA’s proposal? Testimony from key business groups indicated willingness to push for an alternative.

…Consensus amongst conservatives and business people is that carbon reduction will continue to be an issue in Washington, even if I-732 fails and that it’s time to switch from defense to offense. …This thinking is best encapsulated by a remark from Senator John Braun, R-Centralia: “Regardless of how 732 fares at the ballot, and as you know there are a lot of groups opposed regardless of the political spectrum, the issue itself isn’t going away. There does seem to be some openness on both sides to find an agreeable solution. That said, it is very hard to do.”

There’s a lot riding on the policy choices lawmakers–and here the term includes voters–make about carbon regulation. 

“From the business community’s perspective, we think we should be part of the solution,” [testified Brandon Housekeeper, Government Affairs Director for environmental issues at the Association of Washington Business.] “We think that moving forward we need to provide better answers and so there are conversations that are taking place whether it’s around a 732 B or whether it’s providing regulatory relief for the broader business community.”

We wrote of business concerns with state regulatory policies in our foundation report

Many state-level regulations reflect Washingtonians’ commitment to protecting human health and the natural environment. However, the costs of regulatory compliance have a direct impact on investment and job creation…While regulations ultimately reflect Washingtonians’ policy preferences, they should be regularly reviewed to see if, for example, the benefits justify the added costs of compliance. 

Capital Press, an ag weekly, points out a key legislator’s concerns with the cumulative effects of regulation with respect to I-732.

“I’ve spoken with many companies both large and small who have indicated that if you have a carbon cap rule out of the Governor’s Office and Initiative 732 passing in November, you could have major negative impacts in their ability to make capital investments,” [Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale and chair of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee] said.

As an initiative to the Legislature, I-732 will go to the November ballot if lawmakers don’t adopt it. Supporters say if that happens, they have the resources to mount an effective campaign. Whether the Legislature can craft its own alternative remains to be seen. Washington State Wire reporter Caroline Halter closes her story by speculating that we’ll see I-732 B next week. And then, there’s still an outside chance that the cap-and-trade proposal finds its legs.

We’ll keep you posted.