OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee brought in a political heavyweight Tuesday to help close the deal on his long-sought carbon tax.
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the afternoon at the state Capitol, where he sought to help Inslee convince lawmakers that taxing carbon emissions is a critical weapon in the fight against the destructive effects of climate change.
Kerry, who served as secretary of state under President Barack Obama, was an architect of the Paris climate accord and signed the carbon emission reduction agreement on behalf of the United States in 2016.
Kerry told reporters that while the U.S. is pulling out of the agreement, states such as Washington can lead on the issue.
“People are still looking to the United States and what we do, even if it’s several states, is profoundly important,” said Kerry, a former U.S. senator from Massachusetts and presidential candidate in 2004.
He also stressed this is not only about reducing pollution but also building economies. Those states and countries at the forefront of this global climate change battle are “rushing to the marketplace to create the jobs of the future,” he said.
Kerry’s visit came as carbon tax supporters prepare for a critical hearing on Senate Bill 6203 on Thursday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
This bill is Inslee’s latest attempt to pass a carbon pricing scheme. And with three weeks left in the session, it faces long odds of passing just as its predecessors since 2013.
It would impose a new tax on each metric ton of carbon emissions. Initially the revenue would be used to balance the state budget but in time dollars would be spent on emission reduction efforts, transit and other alternative forms of transportation and assisting rural communities.
Inslee proposed a fee of $20 per metric ton of carbon emissions. Last week, a Senate panel rewrote then approved the bill. One change made by the Democrat-led panel cut the fee in half.
On Tuesday, Democratic senators drafted another version. This one proposes a fee of $12 per metric ton beginning July 1, 2019. Starting in 2021, the price would climb $2 a year until reaching a cap of $30 a ton.
Kerry lunched Tuesday with those working to push the bill through the Legislature including Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, Democratic Sens. Reuven Carlyle, of Seattle, and Guy Palumbo, of Maltby, and Democratic Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, of Burien.
Kerry told reporters he wasn’t in town to participate in the political negotiations among legislators. Success will rely on “an element of compromise,” he said. “I think all of them can come around a program of common sense.”
Palumbo said Kerry struck a nerve when he shared how solar and alternative energy industries are booming in places like China, which are aggressively tackling this issue.
“We’re missing out on the economics of it. It is not true that this is going to hurt our economy,” he said. “It was really good to hear him. I think it will be helpful to the cause.”
Kerry also stopped by the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate, and took part in a group meeting with representatives of businesses, tribes, environmental groups and unions. Among those represented were Avista Corp., Alcoa, Kaiser, Microsoft, Climate Solutions, The Nature Conservancy, the Nisqually and Suquamish tribes, Puget Sound Energy, the Washington Environmental Council and the Washington State Labor Council.
While Kerry did not visit the Republican caucuses, some GOP lawmakers said they had planned to attend a reception with Kerry hosted by Inslee.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, the ranking minority member of the Senate energy committee, is one.
He said it’s nice to have celebrities like Kerry visit but didn’t expect it to change the dialogue.
“I think a lot of people in the Legislature have concerns about Gov. Inslee’s energy tax,” he said. “I’m not feeling a lot of urgency in the Legislature to get it passed this year.”
Herald wire services contributed to this report.