Clean the Darn Air leader says carbon tax likely won’t make Utah’s 2020 ballot

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Yoram Bauman of Clean The Darn Air during a public hearing on its initiative petition for a carbon tax in Salt Lake City on Wednesday May 8, 2019.

Utahns probably won’t vote on enacting a carbon tax next year after the leader of a campaign to put the issue on the 2020 ballot signalled defeat in a Friday email to supporters.

Yoram Bauman, who co-founded Clean the Darn Air, wrote that the campaign was hurt by delays and a lack of institutional and donor support. But he suggested the experience would better prepare another attempt ahead of either the 2022 or 2024 election.

“The odds of getting on the 2020 ballot are very long and are getting longer by the day,” Bauman wrote.

On Monday, Bauman said he was proud of the work of Clean the Darn Air, which collected roughly 30,000 signatures and raised between $15,000 and $20,000. State law requires ballot initiatives to collect roughly four times that number of signatures, with proportional representation in at least 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts.

“You can look out your window and see the challenges we face with signatures gathering at this time,” Bauman said, referring to a snowstorm that blanketed the Wasatch Front on Monday. “If somebody wanted to write us a million-dollar check, then we can do it, but so far that hasn’t happened.”

Clean the Darn Air relied on a largely volunteer structure, with some compensation awarded to signature gatherers or “emissionaries,” as the campaign called them. The group hoped to win support for a $12 tax that would be applied to each metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions in the state, with an offsetting cut to the sales tax on food and the creation of an income tax credit for low-income Utahns.

A state fiscal estimate released in June suggested the tax, if enacted, would generate $170 million by the year 2023. Organizers argued the tax on carbon emissions would create a market incentive to decrease emissions, while simultaneously fund state air quality initiatives.

Bauman’s email to supporters included a series of lessons learned by organizers, like the need to start gathering signatures early during warm-weather months and the importance of training for signature gatherers. The email also suggests the campaign underestimated the need to proactively campaign, with Bauman writing that students, community organizations and local media outlets did not elevate Clean the Darn Air to the degree he had hoped.

“We can expect to get a splash of stories when we first file, and perhaps also when we hold public hearings and begin signature gathering,” Bauman wrote. “Then there won’t be much until we qualify [for the ballot].”

In 2018, three separate ballot initiatives qualified for the ballot and were ultimately approved by voters. Two of those initiatives — dealing with Medicaid expansion and medical marijuana legalization — were later repealed by the Legislature and replaced with more restrictive proposals, while the third, an anti-gerrymandering effort, is expected to be reconsidered by lawmakers next year.

The Legislature is also currently exploring changes to the state’s tax structure, but a task force appointed to consider options has shown no interest in carbon taxation.

Bauman described his campaign’s work as a “proof of concept,” and said it shows that Utahns care about air quality and climate change.

“We think that 30,000 signatures is a pretty good demonstration that what we’re trying to do is possible with a little more time and some more resources,” he said.