April 2, 2013

Maine Voices: Carbon tax proposal offers prospect of progress on clean energy

A new fee would drive up the cost of carbon-based fuels, with a rebate-like dividend to ease the shock.


PORTLAND — On March 9, the Portland Press Herald carried a story by North Cairn titled "Changing ecosystem concerns fishermen," about climate-associated changes occurring in our coastal waters.


Paul Perkins is a board member of the Portland-based Maine chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a Citizens Climate Lobby volunteer.

According to the article, scientists are finding that much of the CO2 released into the atmosphere, through the burning of fossil fuels, is absorbed by the oceans. This leads to an increase in carbonic acid, which in turn affects the structural integrity of shellfish.

In addition, warmer waters have been linked to "shell disease," which has decimated much of the lobster fisheries of southern New England, and to the proliferation of green crabs. Chad Coffin of Freeport, president of the Maine Clammers Association, said in the article that green crabs "'have already eaten their way through the scallops, urchins, mussels and now clams.' If these aggressive predators are not stopped, he said, they could wipe out the resource and move on to lobsters."

On March 19, a Press Herald editorial ("Our View: State should plan for climate changes") asserted that "climate change should be the least controversial issue in American politics."

It is hard to argue with the facts that "the Earth is getting warmer, the polar ice is receding and the sea levels are rising."

Furthermore, the editorial suggested there is emerging scientific consensus that the extreme weather patterns of recent years are, at least partly, attributable to climate change.

In an effort to address these concerns, Sen. Susan Collins was the only Republican in 2010 to sponsor the Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal Act.

In a decisive act of bipartisanship, Collins introduced the bill with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. It would have capped carbon dioxide emissions and required polluters to purchase permits for the CO2 they emitted.

Most of the revenue from the sale of those permits would have been returned to households as direct payments – offsetting increased energy costs – and so the approach became known as "cap-and-dividend." Lacking the necessary support, however, the bill died in committee.

Another well-researched strategy, advocated by many forward-thinking economists and environmentalists, uses the power of the marketplace to facilitate a shift from fossil fuels to clean energy.

The proposal is to set a fee on carbon-based fuels, which would gradually make alternative forms of energy investment more attractive than traditional investments in coal, oil or gas.

If all the revenue from the tax were given back to the public in the form of a dividend, this would offset higher energy costs to citizens, thereby allowing for a transition to greater reliance on renewable fuels with negligible impact on our economy.

Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, have recently introduced just such a bill, the Climate Protection Act.

In addition, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and three other Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced a discussion draft for another carbon tax bill. They have left several aspects of their proposal open-ended – how much the tax would be, how aggressively it would ramp up and what to do with the revenue.

It is time to acknowledge that we are facing unprecedented changes in our climate, and to let our voices be heard in Washington. Please consider asking Sen. Collins to cross the aisle once again and work with her Democratic colleagues to craft legislation that Republicans can support.

This means making a revenue-neutral bill by returning all of the proceeds to consumers, preferably as direct payments made monthly or annually. Revenue-neutrality is a line in the sand for the Republican Party, and without some Republican support, no climate legislation is likely to be enacted.

Ultimately, solving the issue of climate change will require great collaboration between parties, and a recognition that we are all in this together as we face this complex challenge.

If each of us took a few minutes to call Sen. Collins (780-3575) and independent Sen. Angus King (874-0883) to ask for their support of legislation enacting a fee on carbon-based energy, our collective voice might just make a difference.

Such a fee would send a price signal to the market to invest in green energy, thereby gradually reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for heating our planet, acidifying the oceans and threatening ecosystems worldwide.

– Special to the Press Herald


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