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Supporters: Wash. Community Example of Carbon Fee's Potential

A coal powered plant near Centralia, Wash., is set to shut down completely by 2025. (Kid Klutch/Flickr)
A coal powered plant near Centralia, Wash., is set to shut down completely by 2025. (Kid Klutch/Flickr)
August 27, 2018

CENTRALIA, Wash. – With an initiative on the November ballot to charge carbon polluters, supporters are pointing to Southwest Washington as an example of how the measure could help workers.

Initiative 1631 would put a fee on the state's largest polluters, such as oil companies, and use part of that money to invest in clean energy infrastructure.

Centralia and the surrounding communities are facing this transition right now as their coal plant is set to shut down completely by 2025, taking about 200 jobs with it.

Bob Guenther, president of the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council, says that's a hit he hopes the clean energy economy can fill.

"The Centralia-southwest Washington region is an area that has high unemployment, has low household income, and we're looking for a just transition from that Centralia coal plant to jobs that will be of like value to the community," he points out.

TransAlta, owner of the coal plant, has proposed a 180-megawatt solar project on the site of the former Centralia Coal Mine. It would create 300 jobs during construction.

Guenther wants to see the region invest in other projects, such as solar panel manufacturing, to create more long term employment as well.

I-1631 would invest in training to transition workers to clean energy jobs. Opponents say the fee charged to polluters will be passed on to consumers.

David Watterson is a Tenino City Council member. When TransAlta offered funding for the transitioning region, he seized on the opportunity to get solar panels installed on top of Tenino High School.

The city also is partnering with Centralia College to offer a K-through-12 clean energy job training program.

Watterson says that's the most important part of this transformation.

"Giving our youth an opportunity to get some training in a field where employment is skyrocketing is just a huge thing and hopefully something that can be replicated in other, smaller rural communities,” he points out. “So that's why I'm really hoping that 1631 will make some funds available for helping our rural communities."

Mo McBroom, director of government relations with The Nature Conservancy in Washington, says this latest effort to charge polluters has a broad coalition behind it, including businesses, tribes, labor and social justice groups.

She says the measure is centered around people and designed to create more than 40,000 jobs.

"It's about ensuring that, as we transition, no one is left behind and there are jobs in the clean energy economy for workers who want them," she states.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA