All Local Veterans’ Week on Q13 News

I-1631 could be the first voter-approved carbon tax, but at what cost?

"Election Central 2018" stories will spotlight some of the biggest races and initiatives of 2018.

SEATTLE -- Initiative 1631 puts pollution on the ballot.

If passed, Washington would become the first state in the country to approve a fee on carbon emissions through an election.

I-1631 would tax some of the state's biggest polluters, racking up roughly a billion dollars per year by 2023.  The money raised would be dedicated to cutting fossil fuels.

As this state and others stare down the barrel of a climate crisis, supporters believe the carbon fee is needed to save the environment. Mo McBroom, the director of government relations at the Nature Conservancy of Washington, helped draft the legislation. She told Q13 News the time to act is now.

"It's needed now because Washington is too special of a place for us to allow it to be polluted," McBroom said.

The initiative would hit big polluters like oil companies the hardest. Money from the tax would be diverted to projects like solar and wind energy. Funds would also go to things like investing in electric vehicles and putting money toward reducing forest fires.

"This is a need to do," McBroom said. "Washington has an opportunity here to write our own future. And to craft and implement a policy that will make our communities healthier and stronger."

But not everyone thinks I-1631 makes communities healthier. Opponents argue it will hurt gas prices and the economy, putting the cost on everyday Washingtonians.

"It's also about who is going to pay the cost," said Dana Bieber, a spokesperson for the "No on I-1631" campaign. "It's going to be consumers and Washington families."

Bieber cites a study from the right-leaning think-tank Washington Policy Center, which estimates I-1631 would cost the average household $325 per year starting in 2021.

The cost would go up from there, Bieber said, as energy costs rise.

"It's not just gasoline though," Bieber said. "It's everything we need to run our homes. It's electricity to turn on the lights in our home to heat our home."

Puget Sound Energy, one of the largest energy providers in Western Washington, seems to agree with Bieber. The company put out a statement saying I-1631 would raise rates for customers. The Association of Washington Business also came out against the initiative, saying it would be bad for the economy.

Some labor unions also believe if it passes, people will lose their jobs.

"The estimate is we are going to lose 9,000 jobs," said Lee Newgent, of Iron Workers Local 86.

Big business interests mean big money. Oil companies like Phillips 66, BP and Andeavor have spent more than $21 million to fight the carbon fee, with adds running on television multiple times a night.

But businesses are not in agreement across the board. Many Washington health care providers, such as Virginia Mason Health System, support the carbon fee.

Frank Foti, the CEO of shipbuilding company Vigor Industrial on Seattle's Harbor Island, said companies have a responsibility to put our environment first.

"We all see a need to transition from a greenhouse gas-based energy source to something else," Foti said.

Voters will decide on Nov. 6.