Rep. Mary Dye: Return excessive carbon tax profits to Washington motorists struggling with high gas prices

(Note: This article was published in the Spokesman-Review on Nov, 9. View the article from the newspaper site here.)

Those of us border-area residents are keenly aware of the price differences at the gas pumps. Gasoline is nearly 35 cents less in Oregon than Washington. In Idaho, it’s 86 cents a gallon less.

Gas prices between Washington and Oregon have historically been similar but steeply increased in our state this past January. That’s when Gov. Jay Inslee’s controversial cap-and-trade program took effect.

Also known as the “Climate Commitment Act” (CCA), companies emitting carbon dioxide (the same gas humans exhale), including petroleum refineries, must purchase “allowances” at state auctions to continue operating.

The governor said the impact to gas prices would be “pennies.” That’s not true. Washington’s carbon fee auction price in August was $63.03 a ton, three times higher than originally predicted when the program was passed by majority Democrats in the Legislature in 2021. That fee is being passed down to consumers, which is why you are paying more for gasoline. It’s estimated the CCA is responsible for at least 50 cents a gallon in the price of fuel in Washington.

To date, Washington state has collected $1.46 billion — nearly three times the $574 million the state anticipated when the measure was signed into law in 2021. It’s estimated an average two-car family is paying an extra $500 a year at the gas pumps. More than a third of Washington drivers canceled summer travel plans because they are struggling to afford some of the highest gas prices in the nation.

That’s why I have teamed up with Rep. April Connors, R-Kennewick, to use excess earnings of the carbon tax for rebate checks to provide relief for registered vehicle owners in Washington. Our proposal, known as the Carbon Auction Rebate (CAR) program, would initially send a $100 rebate on July 1, 2024, to Washington vehicle owners. For a typical two-vehicle household, that would be $200. Those CAR checks could be even larger in subsequent years at the time of vehicle license renewal notifications, as amounts from excess revenue would be divided among vehicle owners. We plan to introduce legislation to enact the rebate program when the Legislature convenes in January.

Our proposal doesn’t change efforts to reduce greenhouse gases—the emissions cap stays the same. It’s not a “gift” of public funds. In fact, this is a rebate of over-collected taxes. By returning the costs imposed by this program that exceed original agency forecasts, the CCA program will be brought into alignment with original estimates of the cost impacts on Washington families.

Also, the CAR program won’t block investments of CCA funds for energy efficiency improvements. Since the state is collecting far more revenue than anticipated, it could easily afford to return some of this money back to Washingtonians and still make those investments.

The governor’s office contends families with more wealth would be getting bigger payouts under this program. But that isn’t a credible argument. The payment is a uniform amount, with one payment to each unique registered vehicle owner. Those who own more than one vehicle, receive just one payment. This concept is progressive, not regressive – the owner of a low-value vehicle receives a greater proportional benefit than the owner of a higher-value vehicle.

State agencies and policymakers shouldn’t be allowed to bask in the wealth of cap-and-trade profits while Washington motorists can’t afford the gas to get to work, see the doctor and take their kids to daycare. That’s wrong! We can, however, make this right and hold government accountable to the original cost of the governor’s carbon reduction goals by rebating excessive revenues to Washington vehicle owners.

Editor’s note: Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, is the ranking Republican on the House Environment and Energy Committee and represents the 9th Legislative District. Learn more about the CAR proposal at houserepublicans.wa.gov/rebate/

State Representative Mary Dye, 9th Legislative District
RepresentativeMaryDye.com
432 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
mary.dye@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7942 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000