Big Oil spends record millions to defeat the nation’s first carbon tax

Washington state currently ranks fifth in the nation in crude oil refining capacity for making gasoline and other petroleum products.


Next week citizens of Washington state will go to the polls to vote on Initiative 1631. This new initiative could make Washington the first state in the U.S. to enact a fee on carbon emissions. But not if Bil Oil has anything to say about it.

In what has become the most expensive ballot initiative in the state’s history, Big Oil has spent $30 million to make sure it doesn’t pass. Supporters of the measure, mainly green groups and climate activist billionaires Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Laurene Powell Jobs, have only spent $15.2 million.

Opponents are led by the Western States Petroleum Association, a trade organization. BP America has contributed the most with $11.5 billion, followed by $7.2 million from Phillips 66 and $4.4 million from Andeavor. Most of this money has gone towards digital ads, flyers, mailers and television ads.

Should the initiative pass, a few would be charged to large carbon emitters and fossil fuel sellers based on the carbon content of the fuels sold or used in the state. Opponents claim that there is a downside and that these fees could come back to residents at the gas pump. Estimates of the annual cost to each Washington state household range from $159 to $449.

The starting fee would be $15 per metric ton on carbon emissions and would begin in 2020. The fee would then rise $2 every year until Washington hits its 2035 emissions reductions goals. The tax is expected to generate $2.4 billion in revenue for green infrastructure and clean energy and transportation.

The most recent poll among registered voters shows that 50 percent approve the measure, 36 percent oppose it, and 14 percent are undecided.

“If people from the ground up support taking on a challenge this significant, then we can do it at the national level, too,” said Julie McNamara, energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “And of course that’s of concern to oil and gas companies.”

Washington state currently ranks fifth in the nation in crude oil refining capacity for making gasoline and other petroleum products. Two years ago the state attempted to pass a similar ballot measure but 59 percent of voters were against it. The measure at that time did not have the full support of social justice groups as proceeds from the tax were promised to go to taxpayers and they felt the money should go towards assisting Washington communities that had been affected by climate change events.


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