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It's rather embarrassing to admit this, but up until a week ago, I knew precious little about climate/emissions legislation, either in the US or abroad. I could mumble something about the US's failure to pass a climate bill last year but couldn't tell you the name of it or what it was about or who co-sponsored it. "Cap and Trade"? Yeah, I'd heard of it, but ask me to explain what it does? (admittedly, Cap and Trade schemes are rather confusing). I knew the EU had passed something, but that's because they're Europe, right? And what's with Australia? What did their "carbon price" (aka "carbon tax", aka "carbon fee") decision mean?

You can't live in the DC Metro area for long before some wonkiness starts to rub off, however. I still have a lot to learn, but this week has been my crash course in climate law. I want to learn this stuff because I'm convinced that passing federal legislation will give us the best ROI, as they say - forcing all carbon polluters to fall in line. I'm happy to get arrested in front of the White House again, but fighting individual projects can only take you so far.

There's one group that's devoted itself to getting climate legislation (specifically "Fee and Dividend" - a carbon tax scheme) back on the table: Citizens Climate Lobby. Last night I met with Nils Petermann who's in the midst of setting up a DC chapter of the organization. What is Fee and Dividend, you might ask?

Simply, the plan would raise taxes on carbon polluters based on the emissions they produce ("fee") and send that revenue to taxpayers as a check ("dividend"). There are other legislative frameworks out there, from a Fee and Deficit Reduction plan to Cap and Trade and Cap and Dividend, but F&D's the plan that James Hansen and other climate scientists are putting their weight behind, largely because the public is the primary beneficiary and emitters are rewarded for reducing, rather than offsetting, CO2.

In theory, Republicans should be supportive of a carbon tax - and in fact, some notable conservative economists do support it, albeit one that replaces the dividend portion of the plan with lower income taxes (a "Tax Shift" plan, if you will): Kevin Hassett at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and Gregory Mankiw, economic advisor to Mitt Romney. Hell, even American Petroleum Institute members have voiced support for a carbon tax.
Unfortunately, according to Petermann, such sensible conservative think tank-iness doesn't translate well to a world of conservative politics still beholden to "drill baby, drill" sentiment.

It's necessary to talk about Republican perspectives on taxing carbon because legislation simply won't get passed without some support from their side. At least not in today's political climate. "It's important for Republicans to take ownership of this issue," said Petermann.

Just last week, Australia passed its own carbon tax legislation despite some fierce and dramatic political opposition. The bill isn't perfect from an environmental standpoint and some conservative leaders are threatening to repeal the plan, but it's a big step in the right direction for one of the world's highest per capita carbon emitters.

Australia's political landscape is different than the US, of course (their Green Party has representatives at the federal and state levels), but I think Australia's passage of a carbon price holds some lessons for the US. I'm especially interested in the strategies that grassroots organizations like GetUp and Say Yes used to garner support for the legislation. How did these groups push through heavy opposition not unlike what we face in the US?

In terms of a legislative model for the US, Petermann is more apt to look to British Columbia than Australia. The "California of Canada" started enforcing its own "revenue-neutral" carbon tax in 2008 and appears to be changing industry behavior and gaining public support three years later. In the meantime, our own California is taking the Cap and Trade route through the AB32 law, passed back in 2006.

As the euphoria of Obama's announcement on delaying the Keystone XL started wearing off, Bill McKibben's 350.org sent out a survey asking their engaged followers to suggest new movements to get behind. About 75 suggestions were made (as of this writing) and right behind #1 (fracking) was removing oil subsidies and passing Fee and Dividend. Now the trick will be to turn "carbon price" into a positive household term among the American public and fence-sitters in Congress.

If you'd like to join the movement to pass a carbon tax, check out the Citizens Climate Lobby website. They hold regular conference calls to let people know what they're about, and an annual conference. They also have chapters around the country. Join CCL and you'll likely be supporting a cause that has the best chance of making an impact on the US's outsized carbon monster.

Erica Flock blogs on global environmental issues here, where this post was originally published.

Originally posted to enviro writer on Thu Nov 17, 2011 at 09:25 AM PST.

Also republished by Climate Hawks and DK GreenRoots.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I joined CCL on the Hill last June (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    enviro writer

    My first time as a citizen lobbyist; definitely an eye-opener and inspirational, making a big splash, showing up as a member of groups, calling on hundreds of elected officials' offices and talking to key staff.

  •  I wish that the proponents of "carbon taxes" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roger Fox

    would be willing to explain exactly what the hell they are talking about in operational terms. Just once. There are many ways to reduce emissions, yet "carbon tax" advocates generally claim that their proposed method is superior on various grounds, but this is something they expect all of us to accept on faith.

    For example, the Citizens Climate Lobby puts forth a 2 page PDF full of glorious rhetoric, but contains only one sentence that is related to any potential discussin of how it is supposed to work:

    Upon enactment, impose a
    carbon fee on all fossil fuels at the point where they first enter the economy.

    So what the hell does that mean, operationally? Do we tax crude, or only refined products? Where and how? What about petroleum imports?  What is a "fossil fuel" and what is deemed to be the "point at which they enter the economy"?  Until they begin to define and discuss some of these types of things it is hard to jump on the bandwagon since this putative assault on "emissions" is so indirect and mediated.  It is much easier to support proposals aimed directly at limiting emissions.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Thu Nov 17, 2011 at 03:31:27 PM PST

    •  Unfortunately we will be using (0+ / 0-)

      Carbon based energy to build the next generation of energy infrastructure.

      If 100 gigawatts of HVDC transmission is built it can save a bit less than 30 million tons of Co2

      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      But to built HVDC, we have to pay a tax on the carbon based energy used to build the HVDC system. TO build the large ships custom built to install windturbines 12-18 miles of the east coast, as in the Atlantic WInd COnnection

      This disincentivizes HVDC, which is essential to move electricity from solar and wind long distances to where its needed.

      So in essence we just made renewables more expensive, not cheaper.

      The Keynesian in me wants to incentivize solar and wind as job stimulus.

      FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Thu Nov 17, 2011 at 09:39:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Feed-in Tariff? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Roger Fox

        Might a feed-in tariff for renewable energy help solve this problem? I guess that would take an extra political push.

        •  FIT raises the price of renewables (0+ / 0-)

          I'm conflicted, I dont like Carbon tax, cap and trade, or FIT. I like using tax policy to stimulate investment with huge tax breaks like we used to from 1934 to 1986. I like the Keynsian economic angle.

          Lets raise taxes across the board, and give tax breaks for investing in solar wind and HVDC, so that Rich Ind and corporations can maintain the current effective rates, if they do the right thing. The implications are huge, moving 100's of billions in capital to important sectors. Incentivizing the flow of capital to incountry investment, instead of the current incentives for overseas and speculation.

          Look at it like this: IT doesnt make a lot of sense to manufacture 450 ft tall towers for wind turbines in India, to be installed off the East coast. It makes sense to build a ship yard in Bath Maine, they built many ships for convoy duty in WW2, and a turbine component factory in the same or nearby port. SO we build use specific ships to install turbines offshore, load the ships with components, sail them up and down the east coast installing turbines over an HVDC backbone like the Atlantic Wind Connection.

          Now go back over what I just wrote and imagine the jobs created..... heavy industry (50k-90k), manufacturing (40-75k), offshore work... pays 120k a yr.

          But there are some serious weight behind Carbon tax, cap and trade. Even Krugman and Brad Delong have weighed in.

          Last night I found study that looked at multiple schemes. A carbon tax and a REC like program they really liked.

          SO I could see, say a carbon tax, putting  pressure on oil and coal based energy, problem is capital sometimes wants to go to the next best thing, which would be nat gas. IIRC nat gas has a slightly better BTU/Co2 ratio than oil and coal.

          Like a big balloon, you push down here, and it pops up elsewhere. But we want to use the first balloon to inflate a second balloon, which is renewable energy.

          So tax policy used to stimulate jobs is needed anyhow. SO I think the trick is to use the carbon tax to push down one one side of the balloon, and tax breaks for emerging tech and markets to move capital to where it needs to go, putting pressure on the other side of the balloon.

          Carbon tax or cap and trade should be very effective from purely a C02 reduction standpoint. But does little for vigorous job creation and incentivizing the flow of capital from speculation. A tax policy to create 20 million jobs, and incentivize capital flow to the important emerging sectors like solar wind and storage systems, wont inherently reduce Co2 as significantly.

          Combine the 2, and reduce Co2, fix the economy, invest in the next generation of energy infrastructure. Best bang for the buck, overall.

          Dayum, did I just write a diary?

          FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

          by Roger Fox on Fri Nov 18, 2011 at 02:32:30 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Two Balloons (0+ / 0-)

            I like your analogy of the balloon, and I agree - disincentives for carbon and incentives for renewables should be used in tandem. A blogger in Australia who weighed in on the problems with their new Carbon Price said as much (see #4):

            http://jameswight.wordpress.com/...

            "Raising taxes across the board" is going to be dead hard from a political standpoint though, much less a tax on dirty energy producers. Break down one wall, and another one appears! Gotta keep breaking them down though...

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