OLYMPIA – At the request of Gov. Jay Inslee, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the state Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 13 to advocate for the governor’s proposed carbon tax.
Flanked by Inslee and several prominent Democratic lawmakers outside of the Capitol Legislative Building, Kerry argued that, in the absence of action on climate change from President Donald Trump, states such as Washington need to independently pursue carbon-pricing systems and investments in sustainable energy.
“Washington has an opportunity to lead here and I can tell you that, as a former Secretary of State of our country, that the world is looking to the United States, the world believes in us and in what we’re trying to do,” Kerry said.
Last summer, President Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord signed by nearly 200 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emission levels. Kerry was Secretary of State under former President Barack Obama when the accord was agreed to in 2015.
“We’re seeing a step backward. So, unfortunately, it has been left to the states to define the future,” said Kerry.
“It’s about the economic future of our country as well as a challenge to our capacity to continue to live the quality of lives that we live today,” he said.
“What we’re talking about here is taking steps that are, in effect, insurance against what is coming at us in the future.” He cited forest fires in Washington and melting snow packs as evidence of the immediate impact of climate change.
In January, Inslee unveiled his proposal to tax carbon emissions and funnel the revenue into sustainable energy infrastructure, forestry, and assistance for low-income demographics dealing with increased energy costs and job losses as a result of the tax.
Following the press conference, Inslee and Kerry met with the House and Senate Democratic caucuses to discuss the governor’s carbon tax proposal.
Joining Kerry and Gov. Inslee were Sen. Guy Palumbo, D–Maltby, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D–Burien, Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, D–Maury Island, and Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D–Seattle. Carlyle is sponsoring Inslee’s carbon tax in the state Senate.
The governor is running out of time to get his proposed carbon tax through the Legislature. The end of the short 60-day session is less than a month away, and legislators have made clear that they intend to finish on time.
Additionally, despite Democratic control of both the House and the Senate, leadership in neither caucus has expressed confidence that the carbon tax will get passed this session.
At the Feb. 13 press conference, Inslee was publicly confident that a carbon tax bill will reach his desk. “We intend to pass it. I’m looking forward to that,” he said.
Inslee’s carbon tax legislation, SB 6203, was passed out of the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment, and Technology on Feb. 1, and will get a public hearing in the Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 15.
Meanwhile, local environmental groups threaten to field a ballot initiative later this year if the Legislature fails to pass Inslee’s proposal by the end of the session.
In 2016, a carbon tax ballot initiative failed by almost a 20-point margin.
Josh Kelety is a reporter with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.