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Ethics & Religion
Col. #2,013
March 13, 2020
Time for a Carbon Tax (Part 1 of 2)
By Mike McManus

Wednesday's Washington Post published an article by the president of the Utility Workers Union of America (James Slevin) and by Rep. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic Congressman from Rhode Island. They called upon Congress to pass a law to enact America's first carbon tax to fight climate change.

One would not think that a union of workers who make their living in energy generation - digging coal, running coal-fired plants and nuclear power plants - would favor a tax on their work. However, they argued that "There should not be...a trade-off between protecting our planet from destruction and supporting workers who have spent their livelihoods in carbon-intensive industries that also sustain the economy."

"The answer is imposing a price on carbon and using the revenue in a way that helps workers, families and communities."

They are right in stating that "Pricing carbon is the most powerful and efficient way to reduce carbon pollution. Charging big corporations a price for their carbon emissions - as many other countries around the world already do - would generate abundant revenue to provide economic security for coal workers, their families and the communities they call home."

(However, the revenues should not just be used to subsidize workers, but also for other needs, including reducing the federal deficit.)

There is also a need for other carbon taxes, on gasoline, for example. Currently, carbon pollution has no consequences to the individual. Its impact is on the climate - heating the earth.

Consider the horrific impact climate warming has had on Australia. In recent months, millions of acres have burned, destroying thousands of homes and killing more than a million animals. It began with months of drought. The government tightened water use to such an extent that people took 3 minute showers, and recaptured its water to be used for plants.

There were months of smoke drifting into cities that choked the residents. The skies finally cleared, but the ground was covered with what one man's daughter called "sky dirt" - that coated cars and housing with a fine brown layer of dirt. Rising sea levels threaten homes near the water.

Therefore, it is essential to consider many forms of a carbon tax. One should be targeted at gasoline and oil that power cars and trucks. Another should be on the energy-creating and burning sector described above - oil refineries, natural gas terminals and pipelines with a goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

A key issue that will be debated is how high the tax should be. British Columbia in Canada has experimented with a carbon tax of modest size - $30 per ton. Researchers note that it has been successful in reducing emissions - with no measurable impact on economic growth.

The Climate Leadership Council (CLC) proposes what it calls a "carbon dividend" policy which would implement a rising carbon tax and refund the revenue directly to taxpayers. The CLC is backed by Americans for Carbon Dividends run by two ex-senator lobbyists, Trent Lott and John Breaux. A poll was taken for the carbon dividend policy in May. It got 2-1 support among Republicans and 4-1 overall, 6-1 backing among Republicans under 40 and an 8-1 support among swing voters under 40.

There are five questions that advocates, policymakers and informed citizens should be asking about a carbon tax (or a "carbon dividend.") Here are the first two. Three others will be considered in next week's column.

1. Can it reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Yes, if the tax is high enough. What's being considered is a tax of $50 per ton when carbon enters the economy, at the wellhead, mine shaft or import terminal. The tax would ultimately cover more than 80% of the economy. That would reduce emissions 39% to 46% below 2005 - putting the U.S. ahead of its pledged Paris goal of 26% to 28% by 2026.

2.Should a carbon tax hit coal first, hardest, and, at least early on, almost exclusively?
A carbon tax can reduce emissions quickly, but in the early years, reductions come overwhelmingly from a single industry, electricity. The transportation sector appears stubbornly resistant to carbon prices. It would cut emissions from the transportation sector by only 2%.

In the electricity sector, operators can easily ramp down coal plants and ramp up natural gas plants. But in the transportation sector, the only way to reduce emissions is to drive less.

However, if the price of gasoline rises steadily, consumers can buy more efficient cars or electric cars.

Now there is hope for a carbon tax or a "carbon dividend," with rebates to taxpayers.

That's a win-win for everybody.

Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.comm. Hit Search for any topic.


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