Economists call carbon emissions an “untaxed externalty.” That means those responsible for them are not required to pay for the damage they cause to society. Imagine if you operated a livestock ranch on your property but dumped all the manure your animals create in your neighbor’s yard. You would save a lot of money because you don’t have to pay to clean up the mess your animals create and your business would thrive. That’s precisely what Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Shell, and all the shale gas and tar sands companies have done. No wonder they are all so wealthy. As one commenter says, it’s a system that capitalizes all the profits but socializes all the cost. Talk about your level playing field!
Market Based Solutions
Conservatives and reactionaries always like to say they support “market based solutions.” That is code for not coming up with a lot of burdensome regulations. Create economic incentives to do the right thing instead, they say. Then so-called “pricing signals” — otherwise known as the instinctive human desire to save money — will do all the work. Put a price on things that are currently free — like carbon emissions — and watch the capitalists snap to attention, they argue.
That is precisely what a group of climate activists in Washington, DC are proposing. They have come up with a plan they call Put A Price On It DC. “It’s a pretty straightforward idea that’s been proposed in many other states,” says Camila Thorndike, carbon pricing coordinator for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of the organizers of the campaign. The Sierra Club, Service Employees International Union, and Interfaith Power and Light also are supporting the initiative.
The plan would put a price on natural gas and oil consumed within the District and emissions linked to transportation. Public transportation would be exempted. “We’re going to charge the distributors and importers of fossil fuels at the first point of sale in the District,” Thorndike said. “For electricity, that would be Pepco and then any third-party providers. It would be the same for Washington Gas.”
Rebates To The Rescue
“But wait,” reactionaries will cry. “You can’t do that. It will place too much of a burden on the poor by raising their cost of living.” Not so, says the Center for Climate Strategies, a nonprofit group that helps governments tackle issues related to climate and the environment. CCS ran computer models based on the proposed carbon fees for the District and determined that a mix of a 75% rebates, 20% investments, and a 5% property tax cut for businesses would produce maximum benefits and reduce carbon pollution by 23% in the city by 2032.
“The modeling has shown that it would create jobs in the District, that residents would benefit and spend that money in the District, creating even more benefits for businesses. 5% of the revenue would be spent on reducing property taxes of small businesses, not to mention the 20% that would go into investment in green energy project,” says Mark Kresowik, a D.C. resident and deputy regional director for the Sierra Club. “This would be good for D.C. businesses. The only people who don’t benefit are polluters.
Carbon Tax Proposals In Other States
Similar carbon emissions measures have been introduced in New York and Rhode Island. In Massachusetts, state senator Mike Barrett has been the leader on a bill to establish a carbon tax in his state. His efforts are vigorously supported by ClimateXChange, a citizen advocacy group that helps to support its activities by raffling off Tesla automobiles along with other clean energy products. Voters in the state of Washington rejected a carbon fee proposal because it didn’t go far enough.
“We are taking this to the legislature instead of to the ballot,” Thorndike said. Unlike the Washington state proposal, the D.C. plan has “a robust, very diverse, unified coalition of social justice, environmental justice, economic justice, and mainstream environmental groups, as well as small businesses all across the city who are working in concert,” she said.
Kresowik is optimistic the D.C. city council will look favorably on the carbon emissions proposal. “The District leadership, on the council and in the mayor’s office, has long been supportive of taking on climate and promoting clean energy,” he says. “We have the best renewable energy requirements in the country right now and this would extend that leadership. We expect the council will take this up over the course of the coming year.”
Will Congress Get In The Way?
Even if the city council does give its blessing, any legislation passed by the city council and approved by the mayor must be reviewed by the US Congress. Uh oh, danger, Will Robinson! The congress is made up predominately of climate change deniers who heartily endorse President Strumpet’s absurd notions about reinvigorating the coal industry as a way of making America greatly ridiculed by other nations.
Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, believes the chances are good Congress will not intervene if the bill passes but says, “If the House decides that it wants to meddle with this bill, it would turn the issue into a national debate we will be willing to have,” he says. “All politics is local,” said TIP O’Neil, former Speaker of the House. The slow motion train wreck that is the Trump maladministration is emboldening many local cities and towns to take the lead on climate issues. The corollary to O’Neil’s aphorism is equally true. “If the people will lead, their leaders will follow.”
Source and photo credit: Think Progress
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