The town of Tenino, Wash., could use a boost. When the state’s last coal plant closes within the next seven years, 200 local jobs will disappear. Already, nearly a third of the town’s 700 households report income under $25,000.
Now, thanks to growth in clean energy, Tenino’s future is brightening. A 180-megawatt solar farm is planned on the site of the former coal mine, bringing 300 new jobs during construction. Solar panels, grant-funded, gleam on the roof of Tenino High School. And a K-12 program to educate and train students for work in alternative energy is in the works.
On November 6, Washington voters have an opportunity, without precedent in the United States, to greatly reduce carbon emissions, make our state more resilient to climate change, and help communities like Tenino forge a future that’s environmentally healthy and economically fit.
This extraordinary opportunity is called Initiative 1631. Initiative 1631 will place a fee on large polluters, such as oil companies: $15 for every ton of carbon they release into the atmosphere. Then, it will use those funds—about $1 billion a year—to reduce emissions, help towns transition from fossil-fuel industries, and support projects that counter the impacts of climate change across the state.
Imagine the possibilities:
In the Cascades and eastern Washington, Initiative 1631 might fund projects that make forests more resilient to climate change. For example, balanced management can help forests retain more soil moisture, while prescribed burning reduces the chances of catastrophic fire.
1631 will support projects like levee set-backs that give rivers like the Quinault more room to roam. That protects people vulnerable to river flooding, and improves salmon habitat, too.
Some 1631 proceeds are specifically earmarked to help towns dependent on fossil fuel industry transition to a cleaner, more robust future. In Tenino, for example, city councilman Dave Watterson knows that a vote for 1631 is a direct vote for his town’s future. “I see opportunity for education of our citizens, in particular our youth, and to prepare them for opportunities in the renewable energy field,” he says.
The carbon fee could be used to invest in cleaner transportation options, like phasing city bus fleets from carbon-intense diesel to clean electric, and helping rural communities replace aging, high emission school buses.
1631 could also be used to subsidize construction of modular, energy efficient homes that would provide affordable housing and lower energy costs. Through these and other projects, 1631 will help communities most impacted by pollution, which tend be areas of lower income and communities of color.
The initiative will support development of other renewable energy sources, including wind and possibly tidal energy, both vast potential resources in Washington. For example, the proposed Lower Snake River Wind Farm in southeast Washington would generate enough energy to power nearly 250,000 homes.
There is no question: Initiative 1631 will give Washington a cleaner, healthier, and more resilient future. It will also set a tone for the nation. We’ll be the first state to impose a direct per-ton-of emission fee on the biggest polluters, and parlay that into actions which specifically counter the effects of climate change.
The Nature Conservancy in Washington is excited to support this ambitious, groundbreaking ballot measure. In August, we contributed $525,000 towards making Initiative 1631 become a reality. We are joined in our endorsement by organizations ranging from construction companies to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.
For Washington and beyond, the benefits of Initiative 1631 are as limitless as a clear blue sky.