You aren’t just feeling WA’s carbon tax at the pump. It drains more than pocketbooks

Nov 9, 2023

By Sen. Chris Gildon and Sen. Drew MacEwen


Our state’s Climate Commitment Act was passed in 2021 with the stated goal of reducing and eventually phasing out carbon emissions. Among other things, the law promises protections for Washington’s agricultural sector and marine trade, and we were assured revenue resulting from the “cap-and-trade” approach would be spent only on projects that reduce carbon pollution. Gov. Jay Inslee claimed the CCA would raise fuel costs by “pennies” per gallon, at most.

These promises have not been met. The Inslee administration refuses to be transparent about the true costs of the CCA to Washington families, as many face ever-increasing economic hardships, or to Washington employers now forced to buy “carbon allowances” from the state at ever-increasing prices, as the Seattle Times recently reported.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Legislators can address these obvious weaknesses in the upcoming legislative session.

Senate Republicans plan to introduce bills that would rank and categorize projects based on their ability to reduce carbon emissions, similar to how traditional public-works projects are addressed at the state level; require full disclosure and transparency from the state Department of Ecology regarding who is buying and holding carbon credits; and honor the law’s fuel-surcharge exemption for agriculture and marine industries in a way that makes them whole, as should have happened from the start.

It concerns us greatly that the Department of Ecology also has fallen behind on its required carbon-emissions reporting, according to two letters the department sent to Sen. Curtis King. Official state data is available only through 2019, meaning no one knows whether the state met its 2020 statutory target.

King has been pressing the Department of Ecology for current data on behalf of our caucus so we and those we serve can assess the performance of emissions legislation like the CCA.

Unbelievably, we most likely won’t see a new emissions inventory from the state agency until the end of 2024.

This is important because based on the available data, we know two things. Washington’s measured emissions peaked in 2000, as the Department of Ecology noted in a 2021 report, and while the 2019 levels were lower than at the turn of the century, they were higher than in 2012, when Gov. Inslee was first elected.

It is critical to know whether emissions have gone up or down in the past four years if we are to have any sense of whether the CCA is influencing air quality going forward.

It’s just as troubling how Gov. Inslee continues to refuse to be up-front about how much the CCA is costing drivers at the pump. At least California’s governor had the courage to acknowledge the cost of his state’s cap-and-trade policy to California drivers is about 85 cents per gallon, as he admitted to Sean Hannity. That allows for an honest discussion about the factors driving up the cost of fuel for consumers.

Gov. Inslee should do the same. The people of our state are too smart to be distracted by the smoke and mirrors from him and others in his administration.

The executive branch needs to deliver on all the promises made in the CCA while being more transparent about the law’s true effects — on our environment, and on the cost of living in our state, especially for families in rural areas.

It must do better, and we are ready to help.