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Equitable Carbon Pricing: Our Priorities and How to Identify False Promises

Discussion at Summit

This post is part of a series: Equitable Carbon Pricing

We must get climate justice right in Washington State. With atmospheric carbon at historic highs and calls for racial and economic justice widespread, there is no room for error or set back. There is too much at stake for communities on the front lines of climate change, and for everyone. So how do we arrive at effective, swift and equitable policy? In this post, the first in a series, Front and Centered offers environmentalists, public officials, and voters a set of clear principles and policy priorities to be our guide.

As leading racial and economic justice organizations dedicated to climate action in Washington State, we drafted Principles for Climate Justice. The Principles derive from grassroots voices, community stories, the lived experiences of people of color, and our struggles for equity and justice over generations. They serve as our compass for  advocacy at the State, working with partners, and communicating climate equity to a broad audience of people who care about justice and the climate.

The Principles declare: First, we stand for climate and environmental action that centers equity. Climate action must be responsive to racial, environmental and economic equity analysis and the communities most impacted must be fully engaged in policy design and implementation. Second, climate action must provide net environmental and economic benefits to the people who have and will continue to be on the frontlines of climate change – people with lower-incomes and communities of color. Third we demand accountability and transparency in climate action that is public, accessible, and creates culturally appropriate participation and strong enforcement.

Over the past two years we have been building on these principles to identify and advance policy priorities specific to pricing and reducing carbon emissions. We focused on a few overarching questions to determine our priorities:

  • Does it identify and involve the people harmed by carbon pollution and climate change?
  • Does it reduce the burdens of pollution and climate change for the people most impacted?
  • What are the costs and benefits of the policy choices, and to whom?

Our journey from questions to answers drew from many, deep wells. We conducted community-based participatory research and extensively reviewed scientific and scholarly literature. We spoke and listened to each other, with local community partners, and with environmental justice leaders nationally. We learned from gatherings, phone calls, and door by door canvasing directly with our communities across Washington State. We will continue to learn about and understand the impacts of climate change and the needs and solutions of our communities. But to date, we have identified the following elements as critical to any effective and lasting carbon pricing policy:

  1. It must be responsive to the communities most harmed, those that are affected by the combined burdens of pollution and climate change, social and economic disparities, and institutional racism and discrimination. We can identify these communities through a cumulative impacts mapping analysis that identifies disparities and guides solutions.
  2. It must be accountable to the most impacted communities, which can be achieved through an environmental justice oversight board.
  3. It must charge major polluters carbon fees that drive down greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, including in the most burdened communities in Washington, but without creating or obstructing reductions of pollution in highly impacted communities elsewhere.
  4. It must cover its own costs, including workforce transition and support for people with lower incomes; and then use the bulk of revenue from carbon fees for the transition to clean, resilient communities and jobs, with dedicated and targeted funding to the communities most impacted.

Front and Centered has embedded these priorities in all of our work.  They are reflected in the Climate Action Policy of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy where you can see more details.  We have also worked to integrate our policy agenda into existing carbon pricing vehicles, including Initiative 732, both before it was filed and again before the signatures were turned-in.

Unfortunately, backers of I-732 and some sympathizers have misunderstood and misinterpreted our climate justice principles and policy priorities.  They failed to ask or answer the critical ‘who,’ ‘what’, and ‘how’ questions about impacts, costs and benefits that are fundamentals of equity. As a result, I-732 does not adequately address who’s most impacted by fossil fuel pollution and climate change nor does it work to alleviate either of those burdens for communities and workers on the frontlines. Instead of confronting the inequities of pollution and the opportunity for a Just Transition, I-732 poses as tax reform.  This is a step backwards for climate justice.

To help clarify these priorities, we will offer a series of posts in the next few days that review the case for I-732 and how some of the initiative’s defenders claim to support our principles but dismiss our priorities. As our struggle for justice and a livable planet continues, and our movement grows stronger every day, we must be clear that those who claim to know what is best for communities of color and low income people cannot do so without our voices. In doing so, they fail not only frontline communities, but everyone who  depends on a healthy climate.

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