Assuming you agree with Washington Business Alliance President Colleen McAleer that addressing greenhouse gas emissions is “the most vital issue of our time,” what is the most effective way to accomplish that goal? Support for carbon taxes worldwide is growing, and the state is considering going down that path.

Photo courtesy Climate Solutions

Photo courtesy Climate Solutions

McAleer was part of a panel discussion on pricing carbon pollution during the 7th Annual GoGreen Conference in Seattle on March 30. The panel also included representatives from Washington Business for Climate Action, the Governor’s office, Microsoft, and Climate Solutions.

Microsoft addressed the issue on its own several years ago by creating an internal carbon tax in an effort to become carbon neutral. The company charges departments for carbon emissions and funnels that money into a variety of projects. These range from improving efficiency in Microsoft buildings to investing in green power around the world or supplying cook stoves to impoverished communities to reduce the need for burning wood. Employees have a say in which projects are funded, which helps create “a virtuous cycle of environmental responsibility within our organization,” according to a company document.

Not everyone agrees with Microsoft’s approach, though, as 425 Business pointed out in an article last year, and it doesn’t make sense for all industries. The WABA is looking at greenhouse gas emissions from a broad perspective, working with the legislature and considering the opinions of businesses from a wide range of industries throughout the state.

Timber and manufacturing plants are among those that will be most affected by a tax on carbon, because of the high energy demands their operations require, and are perhaps least able to absorb the costs of such a tax because of competitive pressures. McAleer emphasized that it is important to come up with an equitable solution that will achieve the primary goal of greenhouse gas reduction while recognizing the financial burden. This suggests that a phased-in approach may be most successful.

In November, Washington voters will be faced with a decision on I-732, an initiative that taxes carbon emissions from both businesses and consumers and uses the funds to reduce the sales tax, provide a rebate to low income families, and eliminate the statewide Business and Occupation tax for manufacturing industries. Business sectors are pushing back, especially those that already pay reduced B&O taxes and therefore wouldn’t see much from that benefit.

Isaac Kastama, director of government Affairs for the WABA conceded that Carbon Washington, the grassroots force behind I-732, proposes some creative solutions and “did make sincere attempts to reduce the burden,” but the initiative is far from perfect. Still, he advises those who support a carbon tax, as opposed to a California-style cap and trade agreement, to vote for the measure.

Despite differing opinions about the details, including whether directing revenues from carbon taxes into clean energy development rather than tax relief is a better idea, KC Golden, senior policy adviser at Climate Solutions expressed a sense of optimism. “We’re in a place where forward-thinking businesses get it,” he said. “We have really passionate public engagement, and the clean energy revolution is on.”