Second shot to reduce carbon

There may yet be some hope that the Legislature can pass carbon-reduction legislation this year.

With the special session well under way and little being said publicly about budget negotiations, Democrats in the House have recrafted Gov. Jay Inslee’s carbon cap-and-trade proposal in hopes of finding some Republican support by redirecting where its revenue will go but also to by allowing industry some time to ease into the program.

The proposed substitute to House Bill 1314 would set an overall cap on carbon emissions and require the state’s largest polluters to pay for every ton of carbon released. But for the first five years of the program, oil refineries, manufacturers and others would receive rebates for what they pay in. Metal and food manufacturers, paper mills and others would get a 100 percent rebate for the first five years, with reductions in the rebate to follow. The state’s refineries would get a 75 percent rebate for that term, allowing some time before those costs would have to be passed down to the gas pump.

Where Inslee had envisioned splitting the revenue between the general fund (read that as “education”) and transportation, the substitute bill proposed by Reps. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, would direct funding to a variety of programs to encourage forestry and mill jobs, protect forestlands and habitat, supplement wildfire suppression efforts and provide a Working Families Tax Rebate. But the bulk of the revenue from the carbon tax allocates $500 million to K-12 education and another $386 million as rebates back to the industries that pay the carbon tax.

To expand on the jobs issue, the carbon tax revenue would fund a $193 million program to encourage forestland owners to sell their timber to mills in the state. While recent shipments of raw logs to Japan through the Port of Everett is a sign of a recovering industry, it would have been preferable to see those logs go to state mills, such as the Hampton mill in Darrington, which struggles to find timber for its employees to mill.

While there was merit in the governor’s proposal to use the carbon tax revenue for transportation projects, the Legislature, specifically Republicans, seem content to fund the transportation budget through an increase to the gas tax. Assuming that is a method legislators will stick with, it does free up the revenue to go elsewhere. Education, jobs and a gradual approach to the carbon tax seems an appropriate mix.

Beginning to address measures that can slow climate change remains ample justification to reduce carbon. We’ll add that it also makes sense in improving air quality and having a substantial impact on the incidence of asthma and other respiratory problems in our state.

The bill likely faces Republican opposition, even with the added sweeteners. But assuming the bill passes the House, the chairman for the Senate’s energy and environment committee has promised a hearing. It’s a start.

In sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquaim, noted the bill’s multi-tasking appeal.

“This is no longer just a climate change bill. This is a rural job creation and recreational access bill that helps reduce the state’s carbon emissions,” he said.

Correction: In an earlier version of this editorial, Rep. Larry Springer’s name was misspelled. It is now correct.

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