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Who’s ready for a carbon tax?

The words that dared not speak before Nov. 5 can now be spoken.

Judging by the flood of news I’m seeing, get ready to hear a lot about a carbon tax as a two-in-one solution for both the fiscal cliff and climate change.

First, what’s a carbon tax?

As described by Wall St. Journal journalist Keith Johnson, “The idea of a carbon tax is simple: Put a price tag on the harmful emissions from fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, and use the revenues to fund clean-energy development, pay down the deficit or slash taxes. Proponents often describe it as a win-win-win policy, because carbon taxes would penalize things that are bad (pollution) and lower taxes on things that are good (labor and capital).”

For both economic and political reasons, a carbon tax has been a complete non-starter for Congress in recent years.

But maybe now, post-election, post-Sandy, and gratefully post-Athena, there might be more room to consider this idea?

No less than vehement anti-taxer Grover Norquist floated a tiny, carbon tax-filled balloon yesterday to see where the wind was blowing:

Via NationalJournal.com:

Norquist: Carbon-Tax Swap for Income-Tax Cut Wouldn’t Violate No-Tax-Hike Pledge

In a step that may help crack open the partisan impasse on climate change, Grover Norquist, the influential lobbyist who has bound hundreds of Republicans to a pledge never to raise taxes, told National Journal that a proposed “carbon tax swap”—taxing carbon pollution in exchange for cutting the income tax—would not violate his pledge.

Alas, Mr. Norquist abruptly and definitively yanked back his position back today.

Via thinkprogress.org

Grover Norquist Abruptly Changes Position On Carbon Tax After Facing Criticism From Koch-Backed Group

But one day later, after being criticized by the American Energy Alliance, the advocacy arm of a Koch-supported energy think tank devoted to promoting fossil fuel development, Norquist has completely reversed his statement, saying there virtually “no conceivable way” he could support a tax on carbon.

Well that was fun while it lasted. Cross him off the carbon-tax seating chart.

But seriously, the real reason we’re talking about a carbon tax today is that the conservative American Enterprise Institute is hosting a meeting about it.

Via wsj.com:

Carbon Tax Idea Gains Wonkish Energy

With the fiscal cliff looming and parts of the U.S. still digging out from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, calls for the U.S. to adopt a carbon tax are gathering steam–even though there’s little sign of interest from Congress or the White House.

Today the conservative American Enterprise Institute is holding an all-day, on-the-record discussion of the idea. And the Brookings Institution is unveiling a slate of new measures meant to make the government more effective, including a carbon tax that could raise $1.5 trillion over ten years. All that follows a cascade of carbon-tax advocacy in recent days from the chattering classes and a slate of academic work over the summer (not to mention our own two cents).

“The time seems ripe for this discussion. The president is committed both to raising tax revenue and to dealing with climate change. A carbon tax kills two birds with one stone,” said Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist who advised the Romney campaign and has long pushed for more efficient taxation, including a carbon tax.

As Mr. Johnson notes in the links above, other voices are weighing in as well.

From the science community…

Via Nature.com:

America’s carbon compromise

As looming tax increases and budget cuts threaten to plunge the US economy back into recession, Congress should take a hard look at introducing a carbon tax as an important part of the solution.

And familiar, long-time political activists…

Via thehill.com:

Gore warns of ‘climate cliff,’ pushes carbon tax in ‘fiscal cliff’ talks

Former Vice President Al Gore called for a carbon tax to be part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations in the lame-duck session of Congress.

“It will be difficult for sure but we can back away from the fiscal cliff and the climate cliff at the same time,” Gore said in an interview with The Guardian. “One way is with a carbon tax.”

Meantime, Slate.com columnist Matthew Yglesias dismisses the idea of a carbon tax getting passed as a “pipe dream.”

Via Slate.com:

A Sensible Grand Bargain Addresses Climate Change

I’m not one to go all gaga over grand bargains, but this [carbon tax] is the grand bargain that actually makes sense—a proposal that would divide both parties’ core coalitions.

Is this even remotely likely? No. It’s a pipe dream.

While I appreciate Mr. Yglesias’ perspective, I hope he’s wrong.

Just wait until the White House chimes in. Things are starting to get very interesting.

 

Climate Change. Hasn’t come up in the debates.

Via ScientificAmerican.com:

Climate Change a No-Show at Presidential Debate, but Candidates Clash on Energy

Three debates down and one to go, and climate change has still not been addressed by the presidential candidates and their running mates in face-to-face confrontations.

I’m hoping there’s a “yet” at the end of that sentence. Hasn’t come up in the debates yet.

There’s one more chance on Oct. 22 for the top men on the ticket to grab the reins.

Will climate change will become a top national energy and security focus, or not?

If I were going to handicap the bet, I’d put my money on President Obama.

The 2012 Republican platform doesn’t even include the words “climate changes.”  (In a sharp contrast to the 2008 platform.) Hard to discuss something you don’t acknowledge.

President Obama’s 2012 Democratic platform speaks the word, and loudly:

2012 Democratic Platform

We know that global climate change [emphasis mine] is one of the biggest threats of this generation—an economic, environmental, and national security catastrophe in the making. We affirm the science of climate change, commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change, and know we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits.

Not that the future-looking business world needs any convincing.

Among the sustainable business community, climate change is a top 3 priority.

Via Environmentalleader.com:

Climate Change Among Top Sustainability Priorities for Business, Poll Finds

Human rights, workers’ rights and climate change are the top three sustainability priorities for companies in the coming year, according to a poll of 500 business leaders.

Tens of thousands of citizens agree and want to hear the candidates talk about climate change at the last debate. This is one of the many petitions circulating on social media.

We can’t afford to wait anymore for government to fully partner with business and civil society on climate change.

There’s precious little time left for “yet.”

 

Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Last night President Obama declared that tackling climate change is good for our country, our citizens, our economy and our planet.

Via the New York Times:

Obama Counterpunches “Climate Change is Not a Hoax”

“And, yes,” the president said, “my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future. And in this election you can do something about it.”

Not that he’s been sitting around. In spite of–and despite–Congressional energy policy gridlock, the Executive branch has been moving forward on energy independence, security and job creation.

Like this Aug. 30 Executive Order to clear roadblocks that have held back private sector innovation and investment.

Via Whitehouse.gov:

Aug. 30 White House Executive Order Signed by President Obama to Accelerate Energy Efficiency

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to promote American manufacturing by helping to facilitate investments in energy efficiency at industrial facilities, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Read this Greenbiz.com article explaining the Executive Order:

White House Efficiency Plan Will Up Output, Curb Emissions
The Executive Order aims to help address persistent regulatory, policy, and institutional barriers that have long-prevented proven efficiency technologies from being more fully utilized in the United States.

It also facilitates increased industrial energy efficiency investment through interagency coordination and convening of national and regional stakeholders.

For their part, business leaders aren’t waiting around either.

Via Insideclimatenews.org:

Major Corporations Aren’t Waiting for Washington to Reduce Emissions and Save Money

While Congress has halted work on federal climate legislation, many U.S. business are stepping up to reduce emissions.

With climate policy paralyzed in Washington, a number of leading U.S. corporations are going it alone, squeezing big reductions of climate-changing emissions from their operations and supply chains. With stakeholder criticism and other pressures building, more and more are also releasing rigorous climate data in their financial reports and enlisting third-party firms to make sure it is accurate.

Strong governmental, scientific, and public sector collaboration are a winning strategy.

 

Homegrown renewable, clean energy.

Without fracking, drilling, stripmining, or pipelining.

I didn’t know that the U.S. government was planning solar sites on public lands:

Obama Administration Releases Roadmap for Solar Energy Development on Public Lands

More via renewableenergyworld.com:

Western Solar Zones to Streamline Development on Public Lands

The document, released by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, is the culmination of two years of dialogue between regulators, environmentalists, industry advocates and the public at large. On Tuesday, the DOI unveiled the much-awaited Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which sets a vision for development on public lands in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The Interior has approved 17 zones for utility-scale solar energy projects on about 285,000 acres of public land with combined resources of nearly 32,000 megawatts (MW). It also sets up a process to allow development of what the DOI calls “well-sited projects” on 19 million acres outside those zones. PEIS estimates that the zones and the variance areas will eventually lead to about 23,700 MW of development.

The plan is being well-received by environmental groups and local stakeholders.

Via SustainableBusiness.com:

DOI Issues Well-Received Solar Plan for US West

Leading environmental and solar industry groups issued a press release endorsing the plan, including Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Audubon Society,  Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Solar Energy Industries Association, Southern California Edison, Vote Solar, First Solar, and Brightsource Solar.

U.S. public lands are our Commons. Deciding how to use, maintain and preserve  our country’s resources is a shared responsibility among all of us.

So is NJ solar in better shape now, or not?

On July 23, Governor Christie signed a solar-saving bill that will prop up New Jersey’s solar industry.

Via NJSpotlight.com:

Christie Signs Bill to Help Stabilize Solar Sector

It took a lot longer than expected, but a much-debated bill to maintain and potentially enhance New Jersey’s efforts to develop solar energy in the state was signed into law yesterday by Gov. Chris Christie.

The bill (S-1925), a priority of the Christie administration with bipartisan support in the Legislature for more than six months, aims to ensure investments in solar do not dry up in New Jersey, which is second only to California in the number of solar arrays –with 16,000 systems installed here.

But in the same breath, the Christie administration announced plans to slash the funds that help businesses and NJ homeowners buy into the solar market.

Via NJSpotlight.com:

State May Slash Clean Energy Fund Almost by Half

The state is considering cutting its funding for new energy efficiency and renewable energy projects almost in half, a consequence of the Legislature’s and Christie administration’s decision to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from New Jersey’s clean energy program.

In a draft proposal circulated by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities last week, the budget for the clean energy program would allocate $339 million in new spending, a sharp reduction from the $651 million proposed by the agency last December.

The cuts are a result of the diversion of money raised from gas and electric customers to help homeowners and businesses find ways to reduce their energy use, and promote the development of cleaner sources of producing electricity, primarily solar and wind.

The clean energy fund has helped propel New Jersey to be a leader in promoting clean energy, a status underscored by the fact that is second only to California in the number of solar installations.

The cuts aren’t certain. Michael Winka, director of NJ’s Clean Energy Program is requesting stakeholders and citizen comments on the proposal.

I expect he’ll be getting a lot of mail in coming weeks.

 

 

There’s a fight brewing in Washington, D.C. over the new standards for LEED, the leading green building certification standards, run by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The new proposed LEED Version 4 standard will give credits for building teams that don’t use certain plastics and chemicals, such as polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, that are linked to health and environmental negative impacts.

Some members of the plastics and chemicals industry are not happy with these proposed changes.

So unhappy that they’ve set up their own council to counter LEED, called the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition.

Background on what’s at stake for capturing U.S. Government building dollars, via Greenbiz.com:

Will the Plastics Industry Kill LEED?

LEED is the most-used green building standards globally, as well as in the United States, where more than 400 cities and communities, 39 states and 14 federal agencies currently require builders to meet LEED standards. LEED is voluntary, but it has been adopted by the GSA and other government agencies as the required building standard for new construction. Government agencies have been critical to LEED’s success: roughly a third of LEED projects are government-owned.

In response, the USGBC staked its ground with the red, white and blue: LEED Is Private, Voluntary, Transparent and Democratic,

More coverage via treehugger.com:

July 18–Plastic People Set Up “American High-Performance Buildings Coalition” To Fight Restrictions on Plastics in Green Building

July 18–Update on The American High-Performance Buildings Coalition: Their Website is Live, and Here Are Their Members

July 19–What Are The Plastic People So Afraid Of That They Want To Kill LEED?

This promises to be a very interesting discussion.

If you can’t beat ’em, well, beat them.

With a green stick.

British Columbia has gone farther than any other government entity to make polluting the environment unpleasantly expensive.

Via NYTimes.com: 

The Most Sensible Tax of All

British Columbia’s carbon tax – a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province – increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute.

This was good news not only for the environment but for nearly everyone who pays taxes in British Columbia, because the carbon tax is used to reduce taxes for individuals and businesses. Thanks to this tax swap, British Columbia has lowered its corporate income tax rate to 10 percent from 12 percent, a rate that is among the lowest in the Group of 8 wealthy nations. Personal income taxes for people earning less than $119,000 per year are now the lowest in Canada, and there are targeted rebates for low-income and rural households.

Could it work in the United States?

It’s an idea worth considering.

Whose interests are being promoted when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars on the environment? The answers are in the budget details.

First, NJ Governor Christie’s under-the-radar Clean Energy fund cut. Hat-tip to reporter Tom Johnson for reporting this scoop:

Via NJSpotlight.com:

Christie Quietly Diverts $210 Million From Clean Energy Fund
Administration justifies appropriation by arguing the money is ‘surplus dollars’

The governor did not mention the diversion in his speech to lawmakers, nor was it disclosed at a budget briefing for reporters earlier in the day. It only came to light late in the afternoon when the administration released a 145-page budget summary for the 2013 fiscal year — a single line item identifying $210 million in interagency fund transfers to the general fund.

And two links views on how the environment and clean energy might fare with President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal:

Via CleanWaterAction.org:

The President’s Budget – Do the Math

The proposal includes increased funds for the research, program development, and enforcement of health and environmental laws.  In fact, one of the biggest increases in the EPA budget is for strapped state programs which bear the day-to-day responsibility of implementing federal laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and the Clean Water Act.  Funding for the Agency’s drinking water program is increased, particularly important for Clean Water Action’s work watchdogging SDWA implementation. These aren’t always headline grabbing activities, but they’re critical to enabling government to carry out the intent of that law – clean drinking water from our nation’s public water systems. We’re also glad to see increased investment in small drinking water systems, who are often most challenged by the costs up-to-date drinking water treatment.

Via RealEnergyWriters.com

Obama’s Budget Good for Energy Efficiency

In all, Obama increases the Department of Energy budget by 3.2%,  bringing it to $27.2 billion for 2013. He allots $2.3 billion for both the efficiency and renewable energy programs in EERE, and maintains Energy Star spending at the same level. Funding for  high-risk research increases 27% and for manufacturing advancement 150%. Obama offers an 80% increase in programs that cut energy use in buildings and factories. He also continues to press Congress to pass the HomeStar bill to reduce household energy use.