Washington Initiative 1631: The Country’s First Pollution Fee

This November, voters will head to their polling place with the ability to elect new representatives—but there are also opportunities for people to create direct change in their communities.

Not only will the fee help decrease greenhouse gas pollution–it’ll also raise money for crucial programs around the state

I-1631, also known as the Carbon Emissions Fee Measure, will apply a fee on large emitters of greenhouse pollutants. The fee will increase in slow increments and will help the state make significant progress towards achieving its greenhouse reduction goals by 2035.

Not only will the fee help decrease greenhouse gas pollution in Washington – it’ll also raise money for crucial programs around the state. The revenue raised from the fee will be used to fund assistance programs that benefit the communities most impacted  by climate change across Washington. If enacted, I-1631 would be the first state-level pollution fee in the country, and could serve as a model for other states to enact similarly ambitious policies to advance clean energy and emission reductions. Washingtonians should vote YES on I-1631 on November 6th.

Background on Washington’s March Toward Clean Energy

I-1631 addresses the environmental public health threats posed by emissions by putting a fee on polluters and investing the revenue in impacted communities across the state. The money raised by I-1631 will be invested in clean energy projects, transportation, water, forestry, better access to clean technologies for rural communities across the state, and will help create a pathway for former fossil fuel workers to transition to jobs in the the clean energy sector.

The Yes on 1631 coalition is a collective of organizations that support Washington’s efforts to address the effects of pollution on the environment and mitigate harm on the most impacted communities. A diverse coalition of Native tribes, local POC-led community groups, labor groups, and environmental groups are working together to ensure that the initiative benefits every community while holding corporate polluters accountable.

Washington is one of a handful of states that has set targets for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and passed legislation to make progress toward reaching those goals. It has been a bipartisan priority in Washington to protect against extreme weather and the negative health impacts of pollution and natural disasters. In 2006, the state established a renewable portfolio with benchmark goals in support of improving energy efficiency, limiting carbon pollution, and transitioning toward clean energy jobs.

Governor Jay Inslee has been committed to tackling climate change and has attempted to introduce this type of pollution fee in the past through legislation and a previous ballot measure. Both previous attempts stalled partly due to lack of community input and a comprehensive plan to allocate revenue to all impacted communities. This new Yes on 1631 campaign is even more favorably supported by the governor, the early supporters of previous bills, and the public.

What will I-1631 do?

I-1631 is more than a fee and reduction incentive for the oil and coal industry within the state; it is an investment in local communities, and a model for other states to tackle the multitude of effects of pollution. If passed, I-1631 would represent one of the most progressive environmental regulations in the country by pricing and limiting pollution while raising revenue of $1.2 billion for investments in communities across the state. The money raised from the pollution fees will be strategically allocated to programs that reduce pollution, increase the use of renewable energy, modernize transportation infrastructure, and clean and restore forests, rivers, and other affected natural resources.

  • Create a new pollution fee. The fee will charge $15 per ton of emissions and pollution starting in 2020. In the first year, it is projected to raise $1 billion by targeting large emitters like oil refineries and power plants. The fee will increase in increments of $2 each year starting in 2021, but the fee increases will stop if emissions goals are met by 2035. The rationale is that the fee should incentivize corporate polluters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transition to clean energy, and finally phase out dirty fossil fuels. Polluters must invest in clean energy or pay for the harm.

  • Invest in more clean energy. 15% of the revenue generated by the fee will be allocated to low-income households to address the energy burden placed on communities that would greatly benefit from solar and wind powered energy. Planned efficiency programs would offer home upgrades that would lower families’ monthly utility bills and save them money.

  • Invest in impacted communities. A percentage of the revenue from the pollution fee will be allocated to environmental justice communities, defined as areas that are disproportionately impacted by pollution resulting in lower quality of air and causing higher rates of asthma and associated diseases. Also, 10% of all revenue raised will be deducted to address the needs of native tribes. I-1631 grants decision-making authority over any project affecting tribal lands to local tribes to ensure that the needs of these communities are not being overshadowed by special interest or industry needs.

  • Protecting natural resources. 25% of the revenue from the fee will fund river clean-up programs to improve fisheries and marine habitats. Money will also be invested in projects that include preventive measures for extreme weather conditions that are expected to increase in frequency due to climate change, such as sea level rise, droughts, and floods. Some of the preparedness programs for communities are in anticipation of storms, severe wildfires, and frequent flooding. Other natural resource programs include improving forest health and mitigating the long-term effects of wildfires.

  • Economic investments and innovation. I-1631 ensures clean energy job growth that will help displaced fossil fuel workers by providing them with new skills training while maintaining sustainable waged jobs. While the pollution fee will incentivize industry to transition to clean energy, the revenue will also support current clean industry businesses like firms that provide solar and wind power. The energy efficiency projects include more access to zero-emissions vehicles and high-speed broadband connections for rural businesses and communities.

What You Can Do

To find your local Indivisible group, visit https://indivisible.org/groups.

Sign-up here to join Washington Indivisibles and make calls to spread the word and get out the vote to help pass I-1631, the country’s first pollution fee.

Additional Resources