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Republicans are trying to extinguish the climate problem across the country




California Governor Gavin Newsom (from left) signs a climate agreement with Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier John Horgan.  Officials are now wondering whether they have failed to sufficiently promote the benefits of carbon pricing.

Leaders across the continent who have embraced aggressive climate policies are facing a political backlash as the programs drive up the costs of electricity, home heating and even common goods.

In New York, Washington, Pennsylvania and California — and even Canada — concerns about the costs of cutting greenhouse gas emissions are fueling voter revolts and prompting some liberals to scale back or reframe their own climate ambitions.

Take Washington, where the state’s year-old program faces a November ballot initiative that would halt the effort, which aims to reduce the state’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. The ballot initiative is backed by a conservative hedge fund manager.

Washington’s cap-and-trade program “does nothing other than make gasoline, groceries and food more expensive,” Brian Heywood, the ballot measure’s sponsor, said in an interview. “I call it the ‘Hey, just buy a Tesla, man’ mentality.”

Washington’s Democratic Governor Jay Inslee – one of the nation’s leading advocates in the aggressive fight against climate change – is unrepentant. “This is a fight worth having,” he said in an interview. “Bring it on.”

The last time Congress considered putting a price on carbon, it led to a major setback that resulted in Democrats losing the House of Representatives and left them with lasting political scars. State leaders are once again testing the willingness of American voters to embrace aggressive tactics that will help combat climate change — while costing everyone more money.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already discovered what a powerful issue carbon pricing has become: the Liberal leader’s re-election bid is in jeopardy in part due to an April 1 increase in the nationwide carbon tax that has sparked protests and widespread opposition.

Now governors are facing the same backlash. Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro last month bowed to opposition from Republicans, labor groups and fossil fuel interests to the Northeast’s carbon pricing program. suggested histo implement a carbon cap instead, which immediately draws fire from both parties and calls into question whether it can pass a divided Legislature.

And New York Governor Kathy Hochul, amid growing opposition from the state’s business community, is considering neutering her nascent self-defense program. She has proposed a price cap so low that it would not produce enough reductions to ensure New York meets its 2030 emissions target of 40 percent below 1990 levels.

“Cost is one of those things that could ultimately defeat the effort,” said Basil Seggos, former head of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, who resigned earlier this month after nearly nine years in office. “The governor … wants to see a program that is affordable.”

The momentum for carbon pricing – touted as the most economically efficient way to tackle climate change – is long overdue. The last time Congress seriously considered putting a price on carbon emissions was fifteen years ago.

But since then the concept, which requires high-emitting companies to buy carbon credits at state auctions or pay a fixed amount per ton of carbon emissions, has been quietly gaining popularity. Programs in California, Canada and the Northeast have raised about $25 billion for state coffers since 2005. Washington has raised $2 billion since its inception last year. The New York economy-wide limit would take effect in 2025.

Inslee wants to link his program to those of California and Quebec, which would make North America’s largest carbon market even bigger. The industrial emissions of about 1,000 companies are covered by all programs on the continent.

“This is very important from a national perspective,” Inslee said. “We have taken a step forward. The nation must not go backwards, and we must expand our measures nationwide.”

Officials are now wondering whether they didn’t tout the benefits enough.

California Governor Gavin Newsom is emphasizing a biennial credit on residents’ utility bills, which would redistribute some of the auction proceeds.

“I haven’t seen many headlines, but a $146 rebate went to all ratepayers on their electric bills to offset that cost,” he said last week. “I think we need to be more aware than in the past of piling on costs at a precious and important time.”

In Canada, support for carbon pricing – Trudeau’s signature policy – ​​has eroded as concerns about high interest rates and the cost of living have taken over. The setback has put Trudeau, who is increasingly popular, on the defensive: His own Liberals have exempted heating oil from the fuel tax and are selling the policy’s rebate checks as a measure of affordability rather than a climate program.

And Canada’s left-wing New Democratic Party recently surprisingly reversed its support for the Trudeau government’s consumer fuel tax, suggesting there are more effective policies to combat climate change.

Meanwhile, rival Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is betting that the long anger over the carbon tax could help his party win the next election, due in October next year – and ultimately drive Trudeau out of office.

“There is a lot of political pressure. I certainly feel it; it should be felt by everyone by people who are concerned about affordability, who are concerned about climate change,” Trudeau told reporters earlier this month.

A worker stands on a steam-assisted gravity drainage platform at Cenovus' Sunrise oil plant.  In Canada, support for carbon pricing has waned as high interest rates and cost-of-living concerns have taken over.

But the most high-profile battle over carbon prices is taking place in Washington.

Gas prices have risen in Washington to about $1 above the national average and higher than in neighboring Oregon. according to AAAalthough Inslee’s office disputes that any spikes are related to the cap-and-trade program. A poll conducted last month of Washington’s 600 registered voters, 53 percent supported efforts to end cap and trade, with a margin of error of 4.7 percentage points.

State legislators the program adjusted last month to give farmers and truck drivers a rebate to ease the cost of fuel surcharges. But it’s not nearly enough to soften opponents.

Heywood makes an argument from that industry has created in the past – but the mainstream business world may not be with him. Amazon, Microsoft and even oil giant BP help defend Washington’s law, announced the campaign — although Mark Prentice, campaign spokesman, declined to disclose how much money the companies donated ahead of next month’s campaign finance filing deadline. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has done that too donated $1 million.

BP, that had rather against a carbon tax proposal in the state, said it aligns with the current program “because it is an economy-wide, market-based program that can help reduce carbon emissions, attract innovation and create clean energy investments and jobs in Washington . ”

Inslee pointed to the positive health impacts that come from a carbon cap and the projects the revenues have funded, such as bus electrification. But Heywood said voters are feeling the crisis.

“It doesn’t really do anything other than make some people feel good about tackling carbon dioxide emissions,” he said. “And that happens enormously off the backs of the working class and the working poor.”

Anne C. Mulkern contributed to this report.