November 1, 2016 update: You can also read our recommendation about I-732 in the Progressive Voters Guide.
You may have heard about the two groups working in parallel to put a price on global warming pollution here in Washington. Carbon Washington filed Initiative 732 in March to institute a revenue neutral carbon tax, which means that it reduces other taxes equal to the amount of revenue it raises from polluters. The initiative, spearheaded by economist Yoram Bauman, would go to the legislature next spring and then on the November 2016 ballot if the legislature fails to act. At the same time, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy has been building a broad coalition of environmental, faith, health, labor, business, and people of color led organizations to reduce global warming pollution. The Alliance has been gathering community input and exploring options for a similar ballot initiative in November of 2016. Unlike Carbon Washington's proposal, the Alliance has advocated for using the revenue raised from pollution fees to invest in clean energy and protecting vulnerable communities.
Reducing global warming pollution has always been one of our top priorities at Fuse. In fact, the first email we ever sent back in 2007 urged legislators to oppose construction of new coal plants in Washington. While Fuse is a member of the Alliance, we have largely taken a "wait and see" approach to these efforts to reduce global warming pollution in Washington. We're very sympathetic to the broader goals of both the Alliance and CarbonWA, and as a grassroots organization we appreciate the energy behind I-732. All of this makes us reluctant to pick sides between these measures.
However, recent comments by Bauman compelled us to publicly endorse the Alliance and voice our opposition to I-732. Bauman's remarks were both offensive on their face and shined a light on some serious policy shortcomings of his initiative.
On September 4, Bauman gave an interview to the New York Times about I-732 where he said this:
"I am increasingly convinced that the path to climate action is through the Republican Party. Yes, there are challenges on the right -- skepticism about climate science and about tax reform -- but those are surmountable with time and effort. The same cannot be said of the challenges on the left: an unyielding desire to tie everything to bigger government, and a willingness to use race and class as political weapons in order to pursue that desire." New York Times, September 4, 2015
Ugh. Where do we even begin?
We believe Bauman is dead wrong about both the role of government and the importance of engaging communities of color. As progressives, we believe that an open, transparent, and effective government is one of the most powerful tools for change in our society. From ensuring we all have safe workplaces and clean drinking water to providing health care for low-income kids, government is an essential tool for progressive change. Yet conservatives and greedy corporations have waged a relentless war against government for years. They have succeeded in starving our public institutions of the funding necessary to provide the essential services we all rely on. Even in our progressive state, the Washington Supreme Court has ruled that we're underfunding our public schools by a staggering $4.7 billion, despite the fact that funding education is our "paramount duty" as a state. The situation is no better when it comes to funding for toxic pollution cleanup, transit and transportation, mental health services, homeless housing, and so many other progressive priorities. Despite this ample evidence, Bauman inexcusably repeated Republican talking points by blaming "bigger government."
Here in Washington, the problem isn't just the amount of funding available but where it comes from. Multiple studies have shown that Washington has the most regressive tax system in the nation. You know you have a problem as a state when even Texas and Mississippi do a better job of making corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share. Reforming our state's upside-down tax system is a necessary first step in order to achieve and fund many other progressive priorities. That's why Fuse has made closing tax loopholes and passing a capital gains tax among our top priorities in the legislature in the last few years.
All of these reasons make it obvious why we would support the Alliance's proposal to hold big polluters accountable and ensure that the revenue raised benefits people in our state. Not only would the Alliance's proposal help fund clean energy investments, but it would also help fix our state's upside-down tax system by making the biggest polluters pay their fair share. Unfortunately, I-732's revenue neutral approach would prohibit us from making necessary investments in our communities.
We wish we could stop here, but the second part of Bauman's statement about race is even worse.
As progressives, we believe that racial justice is one of the defining issues we face as a society. Hundreds of years of racial oppression in our country, including policies that allow polluters to do the most damage in communities of color, are the reason we must talk about race. For example, people of color living in impoverished areas breathe in 40 percent more polluted air than white people, worsening diseases from asthma to heart disease. Yet progressive circles, and particularly mainstream environmental organizations, have long been filled with well-meaning white people. From the leaders and staff of advocacy organizations to the visitors to our national parks, diversity has been sorely lacking in our movement. This leads to huge consequences in which these critical issues get incidentally pushed to the sidelines. And yes, as a white-led organization, that critique includes Fuse too.
One of the reasons we joined the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy was its commitment to doing things differently, and that starts with looking at who is at the table and whose opinions are driving the conversation. From the beginning, the Alliance has engaged and elevated the voices of organizations representing communities of color who disproportionately experience the devastating impacts of pollution. Some of these same groups have also sent a letter to Bauman about his comments, which you can read here.
Yes, the Alliance is taking longer to get up and running than CarbonWA. And yes, it's frustrating that the Alliance doesn't have a policy yet that takes action on global warming -- though it promises to be one that includes revenue to support communities impacted by pollution. But global warming does not just represent an intersection of some of the most pressing challenges of our times - it also represents our opportunity to address these core issues. We're supporting the Alliance because we think it's essential to do that right.
While climate justice organizations based in communities of color have been vocal advocates in the climate movement, they have historically been left out of larger white-led efforts to combat the issue as a whole. We can't rebuild the climate movement in days, weeks, or even months. What we can do is ensure that engaging and listening to communities of color is a necessary starting point for every policy and campaign, and that's exactly what the Alliance has done.That's not using race as a weapon; that's doing things the right way, for a change.
For all of these reasons, we're proud to support the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy instead of Carbon Washington's I--732. We support the Alliance's efforts to combat global warming in a truly inclusive way and we will work to ensure all campaigns similarly practice what they preach about progressive values.
Let's all stand together to make the biggest polluters pay their fair share AND put the people most impacted by pollution front and center.
Photo Credit: Martin Nikolaj Bech