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 Washington state could have ushered in the nation's first carbon fee if Initiative 1631 had passed. (Photo: Wil C. Fry/flickr/cc)

 Washington state could have ushered in the nation's first carbon fee if Initiative 1631 had passed. (Photo: Wil C. Fry/flickr/cc)

Big Oil Spends Tens of Millions to Successfully Kill Washington's Plan to Drastically Curb Planet-Killing Carbon Emissions

Despite the exptected loss of Initiative 1631, "the transition to a clean energy is no longer a question of if, but when"

Andrea Germanos

This post may be updated.

A groundbreaking proposal in Washington state that would have ushered in the nation's first carbon fee is projected to fail after Big Oil spent record sums to defeat it.

As of Wednesday morning, the Secretary of State is reporting the proposal losing 56 percent to 44 percent.

Despite the expected loss, noted author and climate activist Bill McKibben gave props to the Yes campaign, tweeting, "Big Oil had to break every spending record in Washington to narrowly beat this carbon tax. All respect!"

Initiative 1631, backed by a broad range of supporters from the Nature Conservancy to Microsoft to the Suquamish Tribe, has been described as "a chance to tackle climate change head on" and "a possible harbinger of greater state and regional action to come."

If successful, the measure would have created a carbon emissions fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon, with the amount increaing $2 annually until the state's greenhouse gas reduction goals are met. Those revenues would have funded a kind of Green New Deal, being used for renewable energy infrastructure, protecting water quality, and investing in local communities.  The New York Times editorial board recently wrote that passage of 1631 could have provide "a template, or at least valuable lessons, for other states to follow; and (let's dream for a moment) it might even encourage Congress to take action on a national program."

So what's the takeaway from the expected defeat?

"The lesson of the loss is not that people oppose climate action," argue Alan Durning, Kristin Eberhard, Aven Frey, and Michael Andersen of Seattle-based think tank the Sightline Institute. "One of the lessons is that dirty fuel companies do not want to be held to account for their pollution, and they are willing to spend big to avoid responsibility. Unfortunately, corporate interests' money bought a crush of messages during a heated election and scared and misled enough voters."

Still, "Big Oil is losing its grip on the economy, bending to local community demands, and the transition to a clean energy is no longer a question of if, but when," they continue. "Nonetheless, it is becoming clear that voters' path to victory must include some democracy reforms that give the people a fighting chance even when Big Money wants something else."

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus added on Twitter: "This issue isn't going away. Neither will those working tirelessly to safeguard our planet and our civilization."


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