Washington could become the first state in the nation to impose a direct tax on carbon emissions from fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline and natural gas.

A ballot measure before the state Legislature would create a carbon tax of $25 per metric ton of fossil fuel emissions burned in Washington, while reducing taxes.

Lawmakers have until the end of the session on March 10, to enact Initiative 732, offer an alternative proposal or automatically pass the carbon-tax measure to voters in November as written. It’s not clear whether lawmakers will approve an alternative by the end of the session.

The grass-roots group Carbon Washington — which gathered more than 350,000 signatures to qualify the initiative — says a carbon tax is the best way to reduce emissions and tackle global warming. It says the tax encourages people and businesses to switch to cleaner energy by making fossil fuels more expensive.

The proposal is designed to be “revenue neutral,” meaning that though tax revenues would increase for fossil fuels, it would mostly be offset by a decrease in other tax revenues. In this case, revenues would be returned to people and businesses by cutting the state sales tax by one point, virtually eliminating business taxes for manufacturers and providing rebates for working families, supporters say.

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