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PSE joins big-money fight over nation's first carbon tax

If you go to Puget Sound Energy’s website, you’ll see Washington’s largest utility claim to take a stand on greenhouse gas emissions. The gas and electric utility says says it's investing in wind power and supporting policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At PSE's Bellevue headquarters on Monday, you’d have seen environmentalists protesting PSE's efforts to block action on climate change.

Cathy Carruthers of Tacoma with the group Carbon Washington was one of the small group of 17 protesters chanting, "No more coal. No more coal."

They demonstrated on the sidewalk after security removed them from an outdoor plaza at PSE headquarters.

"PSE? They have a lot of coal, and they're paying for the no on 732 ads," Carruthers said.

Initiative 732 is the carbon tax on the Washington ballot. It would tax carbon emissions and cut taxes on manufacturing and sales.

The campaigns for and against the initiative have drawn big contributions in the weeks before the election. (Below, see charts of who's giving.)

PSE is one of the biggest donors trying to discourage voters from passing it. Other heavy hitters include a national trade group for the oil industry and Kaiser Aluminum of Spokane.

PSE gets about a third of its electricity from coal. It would have to pay taxes on its 14 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

"Our concern with 732 is the impact on our customers' bills," said Grant Ringel, a PSE spokesperson.

"There are better ways to get at the goal of significantly decreasing CO2 emissions."

PSE has also filed a lawsuit to stop Governor Jay Inslee’s plan to cap carbon emissions.

Ringel says PSE prefers action at the federal level.

"It would be nice if it was possible to get something done nationally," said activist Carruthers. " Right now, we have split government, and it's very hard to get anything done."

The Carbon Washington campaign has had few large donors. The state's established environmental groups have largely left the grassroots effort to sink or swim by itself.

But Audubon Washington joined in at the 11th hour. Audubon has raised more money to support Initiative 732 than business groups have raised to fight it.

Audubon's biggest carbon-tax donor is a billionaire couple from Houston: John Arnold made a fortune trading energy for Enron and then his own firm before starting a foundation with his wife, Laura Arnold. A spokesperson for their foundation declined to comment.

Top donors in support of Initiative 732

Top donors opposing Initiative 732

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