By JEFF JOHNSON
(May 14, 2018) — We are facing an existential crisis.
We see it as sea levels rise, forcing people to flee their homes; we see it as ocean acidification, damaging shell fish and fishing habitat; we see it as glacial melt, causing flooding on the west side of our state; we see it as drought on the east side of the state; and we see it as more intense and dramatic forest fires — last summer a fire jumped 1 1/2 miles over the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington.
But climate disaster is not only and is not primarily an environmental issue. It is an economic issue that is increasingly causing job, income, and property loss. It is a social issue that is causing people to migrate out of unsafe areas and requiring more and more tax dollars from the local, state and regional levels to pay for mitigation efforts, taking desperately needed money away from health care, education, public safety needs. It is a public health issue as rates of lung disease accelerate, particularly in disproportionately impacted areas. And it is a racial issue as communities of color, who did little to cause climate change and greenhouse gas pollution, are the ones who are hardest hit by pollution and climate disaster.
Climate disaster impacts every aspect of our lives.
And if we didn’t believe our own eyes, science is telling us that we have less time than we thought to make the transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy. And with the current federal administration’s opposition to clean energy, actions at the state level are all the more important. Finally, the transition away from fossil fuels has begun. But labor and communities of color are not at the table, which means we are likely to be on the menu unless we do something about that.
Initiative 1631 gives both groups a strong voice at the table on what the transition should look like.
Initiative 1631 is about investing in our future. It is about investing in clean energy alternatives, clean water and air, and healthy forests. It is about equitably investing in those communities and those workers who have been disproportionately impacted by carbon pollution and climate disaster.
I-1631 will raise about $1.3 billion a year by charging a fee on carbon emissions — initially at $15 a metric ton and growing annually by $2/ton.
Seventy percent of this revenue will be invested in leveraging investments in the clean energy economy: solar and wind power, deep dive energy efficiency, building out the electric vehicle infrastructure, etc. as well as assistance to low income individuals and to dislocated workers and communities. Labor and business will co-chair the committee that oversees these investments.
Twenty percent of this revenue will be invested in clean water and healthy forests – this committee will be co-chaired by a tribal member and the environmental community.
The remainder of the funds will be invested in safe communities and administering the program.
A third committee, the Economic and Environmental Justice Panel, will be made up of seven members, five from organizations of color and tribes, and two from labor. The purpose of this committee is to ensure that the program is working and that the targeted investments, investment criteria and the “Just Transition” program are meeting the needs of disproportionately impacted communities and individuals.
The investments will be awarded on the basis of positive investment criteria. Preferred investments will be judged on whether they pay prevailing wages; use trained apprentices on the job; agree to community workforce agreements with local hire provisions; are women, minority or veteran owned businesses; buy clean materials (materials that have low carbon content); and whether there have been no violations of health and safety or employment standards.
Ten percent of the investments must directly and positively target disproportionately impacted communities and 25 percent of the investments must have at least an indirect and positive benefit to disproportionately impacted communities.
To prevent against leakage (companies exporting jobs and pollution out of state) companies that are energy-intensive and trade-exposed are exempt from the carbon fee. These companies account for only six percent of our state’s carbon emissions, but they represent a lot of family-wage jobs.
Finally, a “Just Transition” fund is set up, out of which dislocated fossil fuel workers are provided with wage replacement, health care and pension contributions, wage insurance, retraining opportunities, peer counseling, job search and relocation expenses. The goal is to ensure that workers and their communities are not left behind during the transition to a clean energy economy.
Initiative 1631 will dramatically reduce carbon emissions and pollution, invest in clean energy, air, water, and healthy forests, protect disproportionately impacted workers and communities, and give a voice in the transition to historically under-represented voices.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 600 local unions and 450,000 rank-and-file union members.