Shell Oil Refuses To Take Sides In Washington State Carbon Tax Battle

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Royal Dutch Shell is choosing to sit out of a carbon tax fight in Washington state, a markedly different approach than other major oil companies who are campaigning against the initiative.

In what could be a sign of the oil industry’s evolving approach to climate change regulation, Shell has opted not to campaign against a ballot initiative in Washington that calls for the implementation of a carbon tax, a fee levied on energy companies according to the amount of carbon dioxide they emit into the atmosphere. While Shell’s CEO has criticized parts of the proposal, he ultimately said his company would not participate in an effort to block it.

“It’s a price on carbon, so it ought to be a good thing. This fee has some imperfections. It doesn’t, in my mind, win any beauty contests the way it has been designed. … But we’re not going to fight it. Let me be very clear on that as well,” Shell CEO Ben van Beurden stated to Axios on Monday.

The issue pertains to Initiative 1631, a proposal to charge $15 per metric ton of carbon beginning in 2020, slapping car owners with around 14 cents more on the price of a gallon of gas. This charge would increase $2 per ton of carbon emission annually in 2021 and rise with the rate of inflation. This increase would cease to exist if Washington meets its carbon emissions target by 2035. The proposal is forecast to rake in around $1 billion a year. (RELATED: Oil Companies Opposing Washington State’s Tax, But Promoting A Federal One)

Many environmental activists believe carbon pricing is a better alternative to fighting greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, rather than implementing more regulations. If voters approve of Initiative 1631 in Washington, it could pave the way for more carbon pricing across the country.

However, the campaign against the proposal is not exactly in dire need of Shell’s support. The No on 1631 campaign touts Chevron, BP and Phillips 66 as financial backers. The operation has raised over $20 million so far — a sharp contrast to a pro-1631 campaign’s $5.6 million in contributions.

Shell is notably more receptive to a carbon tax originating in Washington, D.C. The Dutch oil company is a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council, an organization that supports carbon pricing at the federal level.

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