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Cher gilmore: A global warming solution

Posted: January 31, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 31, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

With 2012’s record-breaking heat (it was the hottest year our nation has ever experienced) and a resulting series of disasters — wildfires in the West, drought and dust storms across the Great Plains, record ice loss in the Arctic, and Superstorm Sandy, to name a few — Americans are finally waking up to the reality of global warming.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll finds that 80 percent of Americans now think global warming will pose a serious problem for the U.S. if nothing is done to reduce it.

If 2012 provided the wake-up calls, then 2013 must be the year for our government to get serious about addressing climate change. The longer we delay, the more difficult and costly it will be to reduce emissions to levels that would keep us below the 2 degrees C threshold of global warming considered manageable by most scientists.

In that regard, President Obama’s inauguration promise to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” was welcome news.

In Washington, Republicans can meet the president halfway with a solution that uses the marketplace, rather than government regulations, to lower greenhouse emissions.

With the current partisan divide in Congress dimming the prospects for effective climate legislation, the administration is likely to turn to the Environmental Protection Agency to further regulate greenhouse gas emissions, extending such rules to existing coal-fired power plants.

A regulatory approach would become unnecessary, however, with the passage of a steadily rising tax on the carbon-dioxide (CO2) content of coal, oil and gas, applied at the first point of sale — the wellhead, mine or port of entry.

Such a fee should start at $15 a ton and increase $10 a ton each year, making fossil fuels ever more expensive and renewable energy increasingly attractive in the marketplace.

Ending subsidies to fossil fuel companies — the wealthiest corporations on the planet — would also help.

All revenue generated from the carbon tax would be returned to the public, either by direct payment or reductions in income and payroll taxes, shielding consumers from the economic impact of rising energy costs associated with the fee.

For most Americans, refunds would match or exceed direct and indirect costs from rising  prices. Adding spendable income to household budgets could actually stimulate the economy.

Households would have an incentive to make smarter purchasing choices and ramp up their energy conservation efforts to maximize their income from the carbon tax rebate.

A clear and predictable price on carbon would use the power of the market to speed the transition to clean energy by motivating expanded investment in clean energy development — ratcheting up jobs in solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative technologies.

Such a system would not “play favorites”; markets and localities would pick the winning technologies.

To keep American businesses from being at a competitive disadvantage, border tariffs should be applied to goods coming from nations without similar policies.

Such tariffs would achieve something unattainable through regulation — provide strong motivation for other countries, like China and India, to initiate their own fees to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In that respect, a U.S. carbon tax could do what decades of international negotiations have failed to do — reduce global carbon emissions.

As the new Congress begins its work, failure to enact a national policy to address climate change is no longer an option. There surely must be Republicans in the House and Senate who understand the harsh reality of a warming planet and want to avert future catastrophe.

They must be urged, by the media and their constituents, to work with their colleagues across the aisle and enact legislation that steers us away from a precipice far more dangerous than the “fiscal cliff.”

Common ground can be found in a consumer-friendly fee on carbon that returns revenue to households.

It’s time for cooler heads to prevail against a hotter world. After the record-setting temperatures of 2012, it’s time to focus the heat on Congress to price carbon.

Cher Gilmore is a resident of Friendly Valley and a member of the Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, www.citizensclimatelobby.org.

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