CarbonWA the heck is going on?

As you may have heard, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy announced yesterday that they intend to file a ballot measure next year. (The single best article on the topic is Jim Brunner’s “Second group plans state initiative on climate change” in the Seattle Times.) Although this conflict has been simmering since our joint statement with the Alliance back in May, the combination of our signature-gathering success and the Alliance’s announcement has raised a whole lot of questions, the principal one being “What the heck is going on?” (Or, as the subject line suggests, “WA the heck is going on?”)

The purpose of this email is to try to describe the current landscape as best we can. We may know more after a meeting with the Alliance that is scheduled for later this afternoon, and we will have even more to say in a few days, but for now here are some Frequently Asked Questions and their answers to the best of our abilities (and note that we sent a draft of these FAQs to Alliance director Lisa MacLean and three other Alliance leaders to ask for any factual edits; we will post any updates here and as needed in future email blasts, again with the goal of describing the current landscape as best we can):

Q1: What the heck is going on? As we described a year ago, there are two potential paths to climate action. One is a revenue-neutral bipartisan approach like Carbon Washington’s. The other is a revenue-positive approach like the Alliance’s. Carbon Washington has been pushing forward on our approach, and the Alliance has been pushing forward on theirs, and now the continental plates are inching towards each other.

Q2: What is the Alliance’s policy? The Alliance’s press release notes that they are “working closely to establish the final details of the policy during the remaining months of 2015”, but what comes across in the press release is that (1) it’s going to involve a price on carbon and (2) it’s going to be revenue-positive, with funds “invested in accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy and addressing the impacts of carbon pollution on our air, land and people”. That could mean a carbon tax, or it could mean cap-and-trade, or it could even mean cap-without-trade (the so-called “cap-and-jail” option). We will have to wait for additional details from the Alliance, and we promise to share them with you when we have them (including whatever information we learn at today’s meeting that we are allowed to make public).

Q3: Isn’t it too late for the Alliance to begin collecting signatures for a ballot measure? No. There are two initiative paths to the November 2016 ballot. Carbon Washington is pursuing an Initiative to the Legislature: we have been gathering signatures this year for I-732, and those signatures are due by the end of the year. Once we qualify, I-732 will go to the state legislature in January 2016 and then (if they don’t pass it) to the voters in November 2016. In contrast, the Alliance intends to file an Initiative to the People, which involves filing in early 2016 and then collecting signatures until early July in order to put their measure on the ballot in November 2016.

Q4: So there might be two measures on the ballot in November 2016? Yes. To add an additional wrinkle, Carbon Washington must turn in signatures for our Initiative to the Legislature (I-732) before the end of the year, and the Alliance cannot file their Initiative to the People measure until after the new year begins.

Q5: What happens if both measures are on the ballot? It depends on the yet-to-be-announced details of the Alliance’s policy, and it depends on how the voting public views the issue. The fear is that confusion and conflict between the two measures will doom them both, which is why Carbon Washington and the Alliance issued a joint statement in May saying that we “we are committed to avoiding two competing carbon pollution-pricing measures on the ballot in November 2016”. But if there are two competing measures on the ballot then it’s also possible that both measures will pass, and if that happens then the odds are that they will be able to legally co-exist: I-732 would put a price on carbon and reduce existing taxes, and the Alliance’s measure would put an additional price on carbon, with funds invested in mitigation and adaption through the details they are currently working out.

Q6: What happens next? Carbon Washington and the Alliance will meet later today and we will report as much as we can as soon as we can. Until then we will say what we have said many times before: If you support the Alliance then God bless you and go support them. (You can even pledge to collect signatures in 2016!) And if you support Carbon Washington then keep your eye on the ball: to a surprising degree the situation today is essentially the same as it was six months ago, with CarbonWA pushing a detailed policy proposal and the Alliance making noises about climate action but not providing much in the way of detail. So if you’ve been collecting signatures for CarbonWA then we hope you will continue to collect signatures, and if you have been donating to CarbonWA then we hope you will continue to donate, knowing that we’re all on the same team and hence that we all have an incentive to move forward in a way that advances the cause of climate action.

Q7: Anything else? Yes, here’s a message from campaign co-director Kyle Murphy: “Our campaign belongs to everyone who has donated money, joined a chapter, gathered signatures for us, and helped to take I-732 to the cusp of making the ballot, which is where we find ourselves today. So let us know what you think about this announcement from the Alliance and provide any feedback you have for those of us at CarbonWA HQ as we carry on.” If you want to take Kyle up on his request you can email him directly at kyle [at] You can of course also email me, and you should also be able to post comments on the blog.

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