Guest Opinion: I-1631 starts to right historic environmental injustices

Plants and animals thrive along the Duwamish, but the backdrop of industrial buildings belies a history of pollution. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)
Plants and animals thrive along the Duwamish, but the backdrop of industrial buildings belies a history of pollution. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

A version of this piece ran in the Fil-Am Herald. It is being republished with permission.

It’s hard to ignore days when we cannot walk outside because the air quality is so bad. Seniors, children, and those with respiratory problems are being affected by the heavy smoke coming in from multiple wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. Last summer, my own mother had to be hospitalized because she went outside during the wildfire smoke.

My earliest memory of feeling the impacts of environmental injustice was with Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. I remember fundraising to send relief to grassroots groups like National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), traveling to support rebuilding efforts, and hearing the stories of family members losing loved ones and their homes. Typhoon Yolanda claimed thousands of lives and was followed by many more disasters, a sharp reminder that internationally and locally, climate change is fast becoming real for our families. This year it was Typhoon Ompong that claimed lives and displaced millions.

I’m part of an organization called Got Green which was founded 10 years ago to fight global-warming and poverty at the same time. As an environmental justice organization based in South Seattle led by youth and women of color, Got Green deeply cares about addressing the root problems of climate change.

The over-reliance on fossil fuels has created poor health and hazardous living conditions in many immigrant and working class communities. Wealthy people are not the ones living next to oil refineries and factories spewing pollution. Poor people and people of color are hit first and worse by the impacts of climate change and environmental disasters and therefore we should be front and centered in the solutions.

In 2015, I joined the steering committee of the Alliance for Clean Energy and Jobs, a statewide coalition made up of community, faith, labor, and environmental organizations. The proposal the coalition came up with will be on November’s ballot as Initiative 1631, also named the “Protect Washington Act.” If I-1631 passes, the measure would make the biggest polluting corporations pay an initial fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon content. Those funds would then be reinvested into clean air, water and energy projects.

Two years ago there was an Initiative 732, which called for a “revenue-neutral” carbon tax. But, I-732 failed because it did not address the needs of communities most impacted. I-1631 corrects this. Preparing for climate change and acknowledging that impacts of climate change will disproportionately fall to communities of color is a major priority of I-1631. Of all investments in I-1631, 35 percent of the revenue will go to local solutions and climate resilience for black, brown, and indigenous communities, at least 10 percent must be used for projects endorsed by the governing body of a federally recognized tribe.

However, carbon pricing should not be seen as the end-all solution to climate change, and just because it can work in Washington doesn’t mean it will work in other states. As a state that doesn’t have an income tax and relies heavily on sales and property tax, Washington needs new sources of revenue and ways of chipping away at the corporate control of our state legislature. We need to create stronger political will to enforce these companies to stop digging, burning, and dumping in our communities. Big Oil and corporations are not are going to reduce their pollution voluntarily and are not going to give up their profits either.

We recognize that we must build the alternatives to fossil fuels. In the long term, it will be the community-led solutions that will reduce pollution and make the environment healthier, not Big Business, and therefore we need to resource those community-led solutions.

Our families and loved ones deserve clean air and water, an economy rooted in sustainable jobs, and public investment guided by a race and equity analysis. Initiative 1631 acknowledges and provides a process to begin addressing historic injustices and bringing us forward with a just transition. I urge community to take a stand against Big Oil companies and those who profit from this extractive system. Vote Yes on Initiative 1631.

For those having trouble with your ballots telling apart the different initiatives, please join Puget Sound Sage and Front and Centered’s Ballot Party on Nov. 1 at the Columbia City Church of Hope.

Here is our 1631 and 1634 cheatsheet:

(Image by Got Green.)