By Chrisha Bali
For Northwest Asian Weekly
It’s all over the news — increasing incidents of typhoons, tropical storms, and droughts throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands. Many of us have family and friends who are directly impacted by these events.
These events are not random but an effect of climate change.
You don’t have to go far to see the effects of climate change. As residents of Washington state, we have experienced dramatic increases in heat waves, wildfires, and droughts. We have noticed shortages in our water and food supplies. We have also seen an increase in rates of asthma and chronic diseases in our children and the elderly. Unfortunately, our low-income communities and communities of color, including our Asian Pacific Islander communities, are disproportionately affected by these climate change impacts. Our communities must be front and center when developing and implementing solutions.
With that said, not all climate solutions and policies are equal. Doing something right away can actually do more harm than doing nothing at all. Yes, we all want to stop climate change and decrease carbon pollution now, but what good does that do if the policy is not simultaneously improving the health and wellbeing of communities who experience the worst impacts of pollution? In some cases, implementing a policy without including the voices of communities of color and low-income communities can backfire. A recent assessment of California’s climate change bill (AB32), a bill that seemingly decreases greenhouse gas pollution, has found that the state’s worst polluters have increased their emissions of localized toxic air pollutants. These polluters are located in communities where there are higher proportions of residents of color and residents living in poverty. As such, the health of those communities remains at risk. The same thing is happening to people in the International District, South Seattle, and Eastern Washington.
We cannot stand for such injustices.
In Washington state, we must decide if we want to face the same fate when we vote on I-732 in November.
I-732’s claims about being “revenue neutral” have been shown to be false. A Department of Revenue analysis found that I-732 will cut funding for education, health care, and other vital services by $797 million over the next six years. Our state faces a $5 billion deficit and court orders to meet education and mental health needs. I-732 makes this situation worse.
I-732 further squanders opportunities for equity and economic opportunity. There is nothing in the language of the policy to create sustainable, well-paying jobs to support this new clean-energy economy.
There are no provisions for compliance flexibility or energy-efficiency incentives on businesses that are taxed. Some businesses may simply leave Washington, leaving many people without jobs, while polluting another community in a different state. A more effective climate policy will be able to reduce carbon emissions and reverse climate change, while also creating family-wage jobs, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, investing in areas hardest hit by pollution, and providing a “Just Transition” for workers and communities.
While I-732’s “Working Families Tax Exemption” attempts to address the impacts that climate change and the green-economy has on communities of color and low-income communities, it is imperfect. The tax exemption provides less than half of vulnerable communities with relief from increased energy costs during the transition to a green-economy. People who are already struggling to make ends meet with our current energy system can hardly be expected to cope with the expensive price of using low-carbon alternatives. Our communities need investments and jobs to make an equitable transition to a clean-energy economy.
Yes, we need to act on climate, but it is going to take a solution that works for everyone. We don’t have the time for “pass-it-now, fix it later” experiments. We owe it to our communities and ourselves to get it right the first time.
Front and Centered, a leading racial and economic justice organization dedicated to climate justice, developed the Principles for Climate Justice. These principles state that a good climate policy should:
- be responsive to the communities most harmed.
- be accountable to the most impacted communities.
- charge major polluters carbon fees that drive down greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.
- cover its own costs, including workforce transition and support for people with lower incomes.
These priorities are reflected in the Climate Action Policy of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. Visit jobscleanenergywa.com to learn more.
Chrisha Bali is a Filipino American graduate student and community organizer who resides in Renton, Washington. She is studying health policy at the UW School of Public Health. She is currently an Environmental Policy Intern at ACRS where she advocates for environmental justice among low-income communities and communities of color.
Climate Action Now says
I take issue with all of your arguments against I-732 and humbly encourage you to look closely at the policy itself and not simply echo others talking points.
You criticize the Working Families Tax Rebate (WFTR). However, a letter signed by the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, OneAmerica, Progreso: Latino Progress, Puget Sound Sage, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, and Fuse Washington states: “the federal EITC kept more than 116,000 children and families out of poverty in Washington state and is the most effective anti-poverty tool we have for kids and families. Funding the WFTR could build on these benefits.” AND “Fully funding the WFTR would ensure that in our efforts to confront climate change, we are also creating an inclusive 21st century economy.”
I-732 funds the WFTR, a policy that was passed into law in 2008 and was NEVER funded!
I-732 will put Washington on track to meet it’s (legally mandated) emissions reduction targets. Targets that were set in 2008 when we had a democrat in the governor’s office, and a democratically controlled House and Senate.
I-732, will be the most progressive shift in Washington State’s tax code in 40 years. By reducing the state’s sales tax 1 percentage-point, for everyone. This is especially important because it relieves some of the economic stress put on low-income families under Washington’s – worst in the nation – tax code.
You criticize AB32 then go on to promote the components of AB32 that lead to your criticisms. It’s bizarre. You state: “A recent assessment of California’s climate change bill (AB32), a bill that seemingly decreases greenhouse gas pollution, has found that the state’s worst polluters have increased their emissions of localized toxic air pollutants.” And then continue to say later: “[under I-732] There are no provisions for compliance flexibility…”
You need to know that “compliance flexibility” is what has led to increases in localized toxic air pollutants under AB32. Compliance flexibility does not stop polluting the environment but simply shifts that pollution to where it is cheapest pollute.
Lastly, thank you for caring about climate action. This is an urgent issue and we must take action now. However noble the goals you espouse, they need to have specific policy solutions. Without specific policy solutions we delay action in favor of no action.
The revenue issue is a red herring. The OFM budget analysis is wrong and makes several inaccurate assumptions about I732, including double counting the Working families rebate in one fiscal year, failing to tax exported power, and using a much lower population growth rate for Washington. Although these errors have been pointed out to them, they have ignored these errors and have not revisited their analysis. The Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, found that I732 is revenue neutral.
Furthermore, although I agree with Front and Centered’s principles for climate justice, I do not agree that we have time to wait and wait for a perfect solution. We have already been waiting too long. I732 is a simple and straightforward step in the right direction – it’s price on carbon is effective and will make a significant difference in reducing GHG emissions, the sales tax cut is the most progressive change to our tax system in 40 years, and the Working families rebate will cut taxes in half for 460,000 low income families in Washington. Passing I732 in no way prevents us from passing future policies that specifically address climate justice principles, and I look forward to seeing those on the ballot as well. But we need effective action NOW and I732 is our best (and only!) option on this November’s ballot.
Blake Wedekind says
I’d like to point to one sentence in this article that I strongly disagree with: “Doing something right away can actually do more harm than doing nothing at all.” Climate change is real, it is present, it is affecting our communities, and devastating others (as you’ve acknowledged). 2016 is our best shot at passing climate legislation until 2020, mostly due to voter turnout. We CAN’T wait to pass climate legislation and keep kicking this can down the road, and we most definitely CANNOT do nothing! I-732 is modeled after a proven policy that WORKS at reducing carbon emissions and climate change. Let’s pass this NOW, and tweak it later to address the problems that arise. I refuse to sit back and watch this problem get worse, and hurt more people. Additionally, the revenue debate has largely been put to rest: http://www.theolympian.com/opinion/op-ed/article58570878.html
Blake Wedekind says
I’d like to point to one sentence in this article that I strongly disagree with: “Doing something right away can actually do more harm than doing nothing at all.” Climate change is real, it is present, it is affecting our communities, and devastating others (as you’ve acknowledged). 2016 is our best shot at passing climate legislation until 2020, mostly due to voter turnout. We CAN’T wait to pass climate legislation and keep kicking this can down the road, and we most definitely CANNOT do nothing! I-732 is modeled after a proven policy that WORKS at reducing carbon emissions and climate change. Let’s pass this NOW, and tweak it later to address the problems that arise. I refuse to sit back and watch this problem get worse, and hurt more people. Vote yes.
Charlie Peters says
Trump Loves GMO Corn Mandate
This article perpetuates the truism that people of color are always disproportionally harmed by climate change. That may be true in poor, low lying countries like Bangladesh or in areas in such as Syria, where prolonged drought drove 1.5 million farmers into the cities, generating social unrest that escalated into civil war. The case can be also made that discrimination against blacks in New Orleans contributed to their vulnerability to Hurricane Katrina, and such events will certainly be made worse by climate change.
In Washington State, however, no one has presented any evidence that people of color currently or will in the future disproportionally suffer from the effects of climate change. To start off with, most of the people of color are Hispanic or Asian. These groups already have lower death rates than whites in the state, so it’s not obvious how they are currently being disproportionately harmed by air pollution, let alone climate change. Cliff Mass has on his Weather Blog suggested that climate change will actually disproportionately improve the survival rates of people of color by reducing the number of days each year that they have to drive on treacherous, icy roads during the raw winters here in the Northwest.
It is unfortunate that social justice groups based mainly in the Seattle are exploiting the true peril that people of color may face from climate change in other parts of the world to make the case that their local constituencies deserve preferential treatment if any collective action is to be taken on climate change in Washington State. In holding us all hostage and sabotaging I-732, they are ironically disproportionately harming people of color in poor countries, since the successful implementation of I-732’s revenue-neutral carbon tax will likely encourage the adoption of carbon pricing rules in other states and countries, thereby leading to a more rapid reduction in global carbon emissions.