Global Warming Bill Blocked in Senate

On Friday United States Senators from the Republican Party blocked a global warming bill that would have required major reductions in greenhouse gases, after a bitter debate over its economic costs and whether it would substantially raise gasoline and other energy prices.

The Environmental Law Prof Blog has a good run down of what the bill proposed, including:

  • Capped annual US greenhouse emissions at 5775 million tons in 2012, reducing the cap every year until it reaches 1732 in 2050 -- a 70% reduction from projected 2012 emissions
  • An advanced clean fuel efficiency standard
  • A carbon duty or tariff placed on covered goods from countries that don't make a comparable effort to the United States
  • A Climate Change Worker Training and Assistance Fund
  • A Consumer Assistance Fund
  • A Transportation Emission Reduction Fund
  • A Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program
  • An Efficient Energy Use Program
  • A Zero or Low Carbon Generation Technology Fund
  • A Carbon Sequestration and Storage Early Deployment Program

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a prominent coal-producing state, argued that the bill was a huge tax increase. He maintained that the proposed system of allowing widespread trading of carbon emissions allowances would produce "the largest restructuring of the American economy since the New Deal." Supporters of the bill accused Republicans of muddying the water with misinformation.

Even as this bill died however, other approaches to federal climate action had already begun to appear. James Hansen, the NASA climate expert who has long been a leader and spokesman for global warming campaigners, has strongly endorsed a variant on the “cap and dividend” system for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions (different from the “cap and trade” mechanism in the blocked bill, which would invest revenue in various programs, with little money returning directly to taxpayers.)

“Carbon tax and 100% dividend” is spurred by the recent “carbon cap” discussion of Peter Barnes and others.... A tax on coal, oil and gas is simple. It can be collected at the first point of sale within the country or at the last (e.g., at the gas pump), but it can be collected easily and reliably....

The entire carbon tax should be returned to the public, with a monthly deposit to their bank accounts, an equal share to each person (if no bank account provided, an annual check — social security number must be provided). No bureaucracy is needed to figure this out. If the initial carbon tax averages $1,200 per person per year, $100 is deposited in each account each month....

The worst thing about the present inadequate political approach is that it will generate public backlash. Taxes will increase, with no apparent benefit. The reaction would likely delay effective emission reductions, so as to practically guarantee that climate would pass tipping points with devastating consequences for nature and humanity.

Carbon tax and 100% dividend, on the contrary, will be a breath of fresh air, a boon and boom for the economy. The tax is progressive, the poorest benefiting most, with profligate energy users forced to pay for their excesses. Incidentally, it will yield strong incentive for aliens to become legal; otherwise they receive no dividend while paying the same carbon tax rate as everyone.

It seems clear that some sort of emissions capping mechanism is urgently needed to force the industry to embrace clean energy technologies. Implementing whatever carbon-pricing mechanism we settle on may make the technological challenges seem trivial by comparison however. An interesting looking recent book by Krupp and Horn recounts a conversion with Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, in which he senator was explaining why he votes for such ludicrous subsidies to corn-based ethanol, despite its drawbacks a clean fuel. The response? "It's 28 votes, the strongest lobby in the nation."

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