As Oregon and Washington contemplate a carbon tax or carbon cap, the oil industry is revving the engines for an astro-turf scare campaign here. The oil lobby spends a million dollars a month in California. As Oregon and Washington start thinking about holding them accountable, the oil lobby is turning its scare machine our way.
Governor Inslee has proposed a plan that would cap carbon pollution in Washington and move the state slowly but surely away from fossil fuels—away from what oil and coal companies sell—and onto clean energy. California has capped pollution from power plants and industrial facilities since 2013; when gas and diesel came under the cap this year, most economists estimated it would cost customers about a dime a gallon. But the powerful Western States Petroleum Association warned voters and legislators about a “hidden gas tax” that could cost families 76 cents a gallon of gas. Now that California has been holding polluters accountable for a few weeks, what has the price impact been? The price tag for clean air—maybe a few cents a gallon—was lost in the noise of gas prices that rise and fall ten times that amount every few months.
There are two things that Oregon and Washington can learn from Western States Petroleum Association’s “Wolf!”:
- Industry will try to scare us with hyper-inflated cost estimates. Oil and coal have a long history of over-blown cost estimates aimed at scaring decision-makers away from making oil and coal take responsibility for their pollution. Experience—with the Clean Air Acts of 1970 and 1977, the 1990 amendments, and now with California’s carbon cap—show that industry cost estimates are often way off-base.
- The cost of cutting pollution gets lost in the noise. The price of gas will almost certainly continue to fluctuate, whether we hold polluters accountable or not. A dime a gallon is less than the amount that gas see-saws up and down in an average month, and a fraction of the rollercoaster that gas prices ride in any given year. That seems like a fair price to pay for clean air, transitioning the Pacific Northwest to a clean energy economy, and doing our part to stabilize the climate.