PUD discusses carbon tax

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Andrew Munro updated PUD commissioners on the progress of carbon tax proposals at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

EPHRATA — Momentum seems to be on the side of a bill that would impose carbon-emission taxes in Washington, and the discussion at Tuesday’s Grant County PUD meeting centered on ways to alleviate its impact on the utility.

General manager Kevin Nordt said it looks like a carbon tax is coming, no matter what. There are proposals in the state Senate, including one backed by Governor Jay Inslee. There are other proposals in the state House of Representatives, and a group has announced a campaign for a ballot initiative if the legislative effort stalls. “The assumption, or the bet, that they won’t do anything this year seems pretty unlikely and a pretty risky bet,” Nordt said.

Commissioner Tom Flint said he thought PUD officials working on this issue should be careful, and avoid appearing to endorse carbon taxes. “I think it’s an awfully slippery slope and we’d better be careful,” said commissioner Dale Walker. “I think whether or not we like it or not, we’re probably going to end up with a carbon tax. But I think we’d better be awfully careful we don’t end up supporting something we can’t live with.”

Nordt said the PUD isn’t supporting any of the proposals. But if a carbon tax is coming, it’s important to get the best deal for the PUD, he said.

Commissioner Bob Bernd is the PUD’s representative on the Washington Public Utility District Association, and said that organization does not, to date, support any proposed legislation. “We thought what was important is that we were being invited to the table.” That hasn’t happened during earlier efforts at carbon taxes, or other renewable energy initiatives, he said.

The legislative process gives the PUD the chance to try and mitigate the damage the law would cause, said commissioner Larry Schaapman. The initiative process wouldn’t allow that opportunity, Schaapman said.

Utility district employee Andrew Munro said the PUD has been working with other utilities on Inslee’s proposal. It proposes a tax of $10 per metric ton of emissions to start with, eventually increasing to $30 per metric ton. The tax would increase by $2 per year.

The supporters of Inslee’s bill have accepted some of the modifications proposed by the PUDs, Munro said. Those include exemptions; Munro cited some food processing activities as an example. Hydropower is not subject to carbon taxes – carbon isn’t used to produce it – but the PUD buys power from some sources that could use carbon in production. The PUD has suggested revisions in the way taxes on those are calculated to make sure the PUD isn’t paying taxes on power that’s not used in Washington.

Some people working on the project, the PUD included, have suggested a delay in implementing the law, to allow more time to write rules, Munro said.

Munro cautioned the PUD’s efforts have been targeted at the Senate bill, but that there are alternative versions in the House. There’s no guarantee the Senate bill will be the version that eventually emerges, if one does, Munro said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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