Innovative carbon policy makes historic progress in State Senate

By Jason Callahan

Jason Callahan is the Director of Governmental Relations for the Washington Forest Protection Association.

Missing from the headlines of the 2018 legislative session was passage of a bill that establishes a price on carbon. The carbon tax bill ultimately fell short. However, two senators should be applauded for their herculean effort to find a path forward for a negotiated, compromise carbon policy. Sen. Guy Palumbo from Maltby and Sen. Reuven Carlyle from Seattle deserve credit for going above and beyond their normal duties and spending hours listening to concerns and finding compromises. Had they succeeded, they would have authored a carbon policy that differed from many other carbon proposals by being reflective of real-world concerns and more consistent with modern carbon science – two factors necessary for the development of a sustainable policy. 

As one example, the two senators included language that supported Washington’s greatest carbon solution: the state’s ability to grow trees. The language that was poised for a Senate vote recognized that Washington’s forest landowners are the only industry that sequesters significant amounts of carbon simply by going to work each morning. The two lawmakers ensured that the proposed carbon tax would not impede forest landowners’ ability to sequester carbon, and that none of the revenue generated from the tax would be spent at cross-purposes with the carbon-sequestering ability of our state’s private working forests.  Although most forest landowners cannot support a large tax on carbon emissions, these changes would have made the policy acceptable and allowed the Washington Forest Protection Association to go to a neutral position.

It is yet to be seen if future carbon debates, either in the Legislature or on the ballot, will pick up from where Sens. Palumbo and Carlyle left off. However, promoters of sound, sustainable carbon policies would be wise to follow their lead. They progressed a tax on carbon further than any legislative chamber in the United States by taking the time to understand the needs of the business community, being open to changes that minimized impacts on the state’s economy and focusing exclusively on carbon reduction and sequestration outcomes. That brand of policy development leads to broad-based public buy-in and, ultimately, a policy that is poised to stand the test of time and sustain changes in economies, political leadership, and the climate itself.