In twist, environmentalists fight proposed carbon tax – because it doesn't grow gov't

On paper, it looks like a big win for environmentalists: a ballot initiative in Washington state to make it the first in the nation to impose a tax on all carbon emissions.

Yet green groups are united almost in lockstep against the proposal – all because it includes tax cuts, to offset the tax hike.

Yoram Bauman, who authored Initiative 732 and generally sides with environmental groups that have claimed for years that greenhouse gasses are responsible for climate change, now says he’s shocked at the pushback he’s facing from these same organizations.

“Putting a price on carbon is the single most important thing we can do to tackle climate change,” Bauman told Fox News.

The turn of events has highlighted a curious aspect of the environmentalist coalition in the region: as much as these groups want to fight carbon emissions, they also want to make sure the money from any carbon tax is used primarily to boost the government’s clean-energy programs.

The Sierra Club, on its website, sums up its opposition this way: “Revenues from its [I-732’s] carbon tax would not be invested in ramping up jobs in clean fuels infrastructure or energy efficiency.”

Their sticking point is that Bauman’s plan, to the contrary, is designed to be revenue-neutral.

The tax would start out at $25 per ton and rise each year until hitting a cap of $100 a ton. Initially, it is projected to add 25 cents to the cost of every gallon of gasoline, increase air fares and raise utility bills -- costing $2 billion a year. But this would be offset by cutting the state’s sales tax by 1 percent, lowering taxes for 400,000 working-class families and eliminating a tax on businesses that manufacture in Washington.

A similar system has been in place in British Columbia for eight years. Independent studies report a 16 percent drop in carbon emissions and no major hit to the economy.

Bauman, defending the proposal in its current form, said his goal was not to grow the size of government, so he made the measure revenue-neutral.

Still, the coalition of environmental, union and immigrant rights groups is unmoved.

“It’s not only about reducing carbon,” said Rich Stolz of One America, a group that advocates for poor minorities. “It’s how we do it, and developing the kind of clean-energy economy we need.”

Stolz said he would have backed I-732 if it were a tax increase, funding government programs and new regulations on polluters.

But one environmental group broke ranks with long-time allies. The Audubon Society is supporting the measure.

“I think for us, I-732 isn’t about money,” said Gail Gatton, executive director of Audubon Society Washington State. “It really is about what are the market-based incentives that will drive people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Gatton told Fox News she cannot remember another time when the Audubon Society was at odds with the Sierra Club and other green groups in the state.

Critics say this rift exposes a dirty little secret about the environmental movement.

“They’re more afraid of tax cuts,” said Todd Myers, an analyst with Washington Policy Center. “They only want a government solution, and so they’re willing to destroy an effort that would actually reduce carbon emissions, make us more energy efficient, because they care more about government than climate change.”