Last modified: November 26, 2008

Last modified: November 26, 2008

At Last, It Begins: Real, Substantive Debate on 2009 Climate Legislation

(This post first ran in the Huffington Post on November 25.)

Before President-elect Obama’s cabinet is named — even before we know who the next Senators from Minnesota or Georgia will be — jockeying for position on 2009 climate legislation is well underway on Capitol Hill. Detailed intellectual cases and functioning coalitions are getting built now, not just for the idea that we need robust climate legislation fast – that’s already widely accepted and anticipated in Washington – but for which specific mechanisms will deliver the biggest, fastest impact on carbon emissions and the economy.

Significantly, these discussions aren’t all taking place behind closed doors, but in full public view, for example at a public Hill briefing December 9 with carbon tax supporters like NASA scientist James Hansen, economists Gilbert Metcalf and Robert Shapiro, Canadian public affairs expert James Hoggan, and Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn., 1st district), who has just been elected chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and who introduced an early piece of carbon tax legislation into the House. The public can attend, along with Congressional members and staff — details here.

Capitol_dome_lit.jpgIf introducing a new tax on carbon seems like a quixotic political battle in a time of historic economic and fiscal crisis, then you’re out of touch. The economic crisis has in fact given it a big boost, and in this crisis-ridden political environment, the carbon tax is an increasingly formidable competitor to cap-and-trade schemes.

The latter work by creating trillions of dollars’ worth of complex, tradeable instruments, and public faith in market gurus to make such trading efficient, or in government agencies to regulate them, is at an all-time low.

Critics point out lots of places to hide in the cumbersome trading scheme, witness 800-pages of special interest potlatches in the DOA Warner Lieberman bill, whereas a carbon tax is as inexorable as… taxes.

Crisis-driven volatility in oil prices has proven what advocates of gasoline taxes and energy taxes have said all along: price spikes may come and go, but if we don’t somehow tax wasteful use of carbon fuels, the highs will just put windfalls in the pockets of oil producers and do nothing for American interests, either for energy independence or for getting control of our emissions. A carbon tax would put an effective floor under the price of gas, help smooth volatility, cut into the windfall profits of producers during price spikes, and as prices fall off the highs, keep oil consumers from going, as President-elect Obama recently said, from shock back into trance.

Perhaps most appealing of all amid the economic crisis is the fact that a carbon tax could be kept revenue-neutral. That would allow us to pay as we go to curb emissions; and wouldn’t entail any huge government outlays or bureaucracies to get addicted to the revenue. Along with the increase in energy prices, carbon tax revenues would be big, but the money would be given right back to taxpayers, whether in the form of direct payments like Alaskans get for oil production, or in the form of a progressive tax cuts like cutting or eliminating payroll taxes, as progressives like Al Gore and even conservatives like T. Boone Pickens have proposed.

Payroll taxes are the biggest, most regressive taxes 80% of Americans pay, and a big drag on employment since they artificially raise hiring costs. Cutting them would both put money back into the pockets of middle-class and working-class families, and take the self-imposed brakes off job creation.

If you’re President-elect Obama and you’ve promised to create 2.5 million jobs by 2011, and to lower taxes on families making less than $250,000 a year, while finding the means for a meaningful economic stimulus and major reductions in carbon emissions, that has got to sound good.

If you’re a concerned citizen who has been waiting for years for the political static to clear, and some real, productive grappling with meaningful climate legislation to begin, this is your moment. You can weigh in, sign petitions, write letters to Congress, attend that Hill briefing, and generally be part of substantive, small-d democratic debate about serious climate legislation at the Price Carbon Campaign

Photo: Flickr / Afagen.


Last modified: November 26, 2008

Last modified: November 25, 2008

Last modified: November 25, 2008

Last modified: November 24, 2008

Is the Moment Ripe for a National Carbon Tax?

(This post first ran on Gristmill, under the headline,
Can the Promise of a New Political Landscape Include a U.S. Carbon Tax?,

with the subhead, Advocates launch the Price Carbon Campaign.)

What do the defeat of the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill, the burst of the oil-price bubble, the Wall Street meltdown, the promise of a new political landscape in the wake of the fall elections, and the exigencies of the climate crisis have in common

To the Carbon Tax Center and our partners at the Climate Crisis Coalition, these events together augur for a resurgence of interest in, and potential political support for, the “gold standard” for carbon pricing: a national, revenue-neutral carbon tax.


  • The ignominious defeat of Lieberman-Warner, which collapsed in June under its 800-page weight, made crystal-clear that any carbon cap-and-trade system will be dysfunctionally complex, will take agonizingly long to put in place, and will fall prey to massive special-interest ripoff.
  • Political prospects for creating trillions of dollars’ worth of tradeable carbon emission permits have been further damaged by the Wall Street debacle and the resulting backlash against insider speculation and profiteering.
  • Retreating prices for oil and other fossil fuels strengthen not just the need, but also the political wherewithal for taxing fuels for their carbon content.
  • The success of the movement to elect Barack Obama to the presidency signals an era of new possibilities in which, just possibly, shibboleths such as “no new taxes” may get tossed into history’s dustbin — particularly if carbon taxes are made revenue-neutral via tax-shifting or revenue distribution.

To pivot off this moment, CTC and CCC today, with other allies, have launched the Price Carbon Campaign.

The campaign begins with three elements:

  • an online petition to the Obama administration and Congress calling for serious consideration of a national carbon tax during the first hundred days of the new Washington regime;
  • a letter-writing campaign to members of Congress. Your letter will be directed not only to your Senators and member of Congress (keyed by your zip code), but also to House and Senate leaders who hold sway over climate and tax legislation; and
  • a congressional briefing on carbon taxes focusing on the environmental, economic, economic-efficiency, logistical, and political benefits of a national carbon tax.

The briefing, featuring NASA lead climatologist (and carbon tax advocate) James Hansen, economists Gilbert Metcalf and Robert Shapiro, and Canadian public affairs expert James Hoggan, and hosted by Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn., 1st district), is set for a House Ways and Means Committee hearing room (Rayburn H.O.B., Room B-318) on Tuesday morning, Dec. 9.

For further details on the briefing, click here.

We hope to generate thousands of signatures and letters between now and Dec. 9, so please visit the Price Carbon Campaign now.

Photo: Flickr / patrix.


Last modified: November 24, 2008

Last modified: November 23, 2008

Last modified: November 22, 2008

Last modified: November 21, 2008