A good start on carbon emissions

By Elisabeth Robbins

Those who are concerned about climate change were glad to hear President Obama list on Tuesday a litany of actions his administration is beginning to take to reduce carbon emissions. We have been waiting for just such a strong statement, and we welcome it.

Without waiting for a dysfunctional Congress to act, the president is using his executive authority to push, pull and prod energy producers and manufacturers into actions they have known for years they need to take if we are to prevent social chaos in future decades. But we can expect many will object, as coal industry lobbyists immediately did in proclaiming that Obama has “declared war on coal.” When a technology is outmoded, it will be discarded. This is no more a war on coal than electricity was a war on gas lighting in the home.

Almost in passing, Obama mentioned that other solutions are possible, notably, placing a fee on carbon, but that because of the congressional stalemate he was going the route of regulatory action. Was he offering a potential alternative to government regulation?

To date, Congress has been unwilling to officially consider a carbon tax, even a carbon fee such as the one Citizens Climate Lobby is proposing, in which all revenue would be returned to taxpayers to offset higher energy costs, with no excess revenue accruing to the government. Could the prospect of onerous government regulation make this a more palatable alternative?

Economists across the political spectrum advocate a tax on CO2-producing fossil fuels at the well, mine or port as a market-based solution that is more efficient, more representative of our democratic nation, and could be easily implemented with systems for revenue collection and disbursement already in place.

While climate advocates can rejoice at the president’s words, his actions alone will not resolve the problem for us. We still need to make our voices heard. We must oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, to make sure that as the president considers the significance of the line’s CO2 impact, he looks at the full fuel cycle of extraction, refining, export and burning, not just the transportation of toxic bitumen across American lands with its danger of leaks and spills. We need to end subsidies to fossil fuel production and require that producers pay for the health and environmental costs of dirty energy extraction.

Resolving our energy crisis won’t be easy, and it won’t happen without a lot of citizen action. It’s hard to measure success in terms of a catastrophe that didn’t happen, but if we can manage the transition to clean energy, it will be a win-win for both political parties, the president and the American people.

— Elisabeth Robbins of Woodland is a member of the Yolo County Citizens Climate Lobby.

Special to The Enterprise

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