Prepare for a long emissions debate | Jerry Cornfield

A not-so-funny thing happened on the long march to save Washington from the damaging undulations of climate change.

A fight broke out among the warriors.

A little jawboning in the summer escalated last week with a flurry of verbal punches directed at the campaign to create a carbon tax with Initiative 732, as its leaders turned in the last of 350,000 signatures gathered in support of the measure.

“It’s the culmination of a long journey this year and the start of a new journey next year,” said Yoram Bauman, co-founder of Carbon Washington, the group behind I-732. “We’re super excited about what comes next.”

That’s going to be months of campaigning to educate voters on their measure to tax carbon emissions from gasoline, natural gas and fossil fuels. It also would lower the state’s retail sales tax, trim the business and occupation tax and give low-income families a tax rebate. The claim is it will be “revenue neutral” for state coffers.

There’s going to be opposition. But the loudest opponents may not be in the ranks of climate change deniers but among those in a coalition of environmental, labor and progressive groups.

Leaders of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, with a 30-person steering committee and roughly 150 groups as members, had been trying for months to get I-732 supporters to stand down and join them with a different approach they think will fare better with voters.

That approach would involve capping emissions, collecting a fee from emitters and spreading that dough around to clean energy and community-building projects.

CarbonWA supporters decided not to join them partly because their offering had not been fully refined.

“Our approach was to come with a great policy and bring people together to support it,” he said. “Their approach has been to bring a bunch a people around the table and come up with a policy they can all agree upon. And they are finding that to be challenging.”

The alliance brain trust is now debating — and polling — their options.

Three stand out: Do nothing, craft a measure to complement I-732 or push ahead with a competing measure.

Not going forward is an absolute possibility, if there is no clear and surmountable path to winning, alliance members said.

When voters are faced with competing items on a ballot they tend to turn both down. Alliance members are frustrated I-732 forces don’t see the potential damage to their cause in losing as much as they do.

If the alliance proceeds, its members would need to spend as much time talking up their proposition as they have been talking down I-732.

That won’t be hard, as they’ve been lobbing verbal jabs for awhile. And this week, they latched onto a state Department of Revenue analysis they claim shows the initiative won’t be “revenue neutral” but actually cause the state lose money over time.

Adam Glickman, secretary-treasurer of Service Employees International Union Local 775 and an alliance steering committee member, called it a “poorly written” and “deeply flawed” initiative that will drain valuable dollars from the state treasury without forcing major polluters to reduce carbon emissions.

“Big Oil is dancing in the streets over this,” he said.

Bauman offered a robust rebuttal to the economic analysis, saying the model and assumptions used by legislative staff didn’t accurately reflect the measure.

“We believe that further analysis by the state will show that the measure is revenue neutral, or very close to it,” he said.

“We think I-732 is a terrific policy,” he said. “Fossil fuels will cost a little bit more and everything else will cost a little bit less and that’s how we’re going to save the world.”

We’ll see what Washington voters think about that next fall.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos