U.S. Carbon tax

U.S. Carbon tax

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Jack Doyle started this petition to US Representative - Oregon District 3 Earl Blumenauer

       Our petition calls for a national carbon tax in the United States of America. A carbon tax refers to a plan in which fuels that release carbon emissions are taxed by the government as soon as they enter the economy. The proceeds from the tax go to the people in the form of a carbon dividend. Damage done to the environment is given a literal price that companies must pay. The air will be treated as a common in which everyone owns a part, instead of a private sewers for companies to dump their deadly waste in

Background       
       The term “carbon emissions” refers to the release of the pollutant carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is, “The primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities… [it] accounts for about 81.6% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.”  Despite their large threat, carbon emissions are a regularly recent problem; they barely existed before the Industrial Revolution, and their dangers were only discovered very recently. However, since then, “CO2 in the atmosphere has gone up by 40 percent,” which most scientists consider this to be an extremely urgent and serious problem.
       Carbon emissions are given off whenever “hydrocarbon fuels [such as] …  wood, coal natural gas, gasoline, and oil… are burned.” The carbon dioxide that is given off by the burning of these fuels is contributing to the growing amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and nitrous oxides. Greenhouse gases, “Absorb heat energy emitted from Earth’s surface and reradiate it back to the ground,” which causes the earth to not just retain but gain heat. This change in temperature has a disastrous effect on the earth. It is predicted that sea level could rise anywhere between, “0.45-0.82 meteres [sic] (1.4-2.7 feet) by 2100,” and 10.5 meters. As a result of this increase in sea level, “many of the world’s major cities--such as Tokyo, New York Mumbai, Shanghai, and Dhaka--are located in lowland regions vulnerable to rising sea levels.”


What is a Carbon Tax?
       A carbon tax, in its simplest form, is a tax on carbon emissions. It sets a price on the damage done to the climate, and then allows companies to make their choice of whether or not to decrease emissions. This idea was created to dissuade companies from creating greenhouse gasses to prevent global warming. Although this may seem like a strange idea, the concept behind it is simply that carbon emissions are just as bad as any other type of waste. In other words, “It makes no sense that the fossil fuel industry is allowed to put out their [carbon] waste for free, using the atmosphere as an open sewer.”  
       These taxes are thought to have many positive effects on the environment. First of all, companies hoping to earn more money will move towards cheaper and therefore less dangerous types of fuels. A sample carbon tax shows the following prices in dollars per million Btu of fuel:


Bituminous coal: $1.40
Subbituminous coal: $1.45
Lignite:   $1.47
Crude Oil:  $1.12
Gasoline:  $1.07
Residual Fuel Oil: $1.18
Natural Gas:  $0.80  


       A company would thus be encouraged to use natural gas and gasoline over other fuels that result in more pollution because of an increased cost. Also, this tax has the potential to, “encourage firms to invest in environmentally friendly renewable energy and reduce the economy-wide reliance on fossil fuels.”
       An ideal carbon tax would start with an original relatively small price and then climb up to a higher, more meaningful price. This would, “prompt increased investment in low-carbon fuels, technologies, and infrastructure,” while not starting out at such a high new price. This allows change to be created, but not so quickly as it can not be stopped. 

Prior Controls on Carbon Emissions                                                         Over the last 20 years, many other limits on emissions of carbon dioxide have been discussed and implemented in the U.S. and a myriad of other countries. The main way that has been discussed to regulate emissions has been placing simple limits on emissions. Under this relatively simple system uses straight-up limits on the amounts of carbon emissions a company gives off. This is called a cap-and-trade system. Under this system, “[the] government sets a limit on total carbon emissions and issues tradable permits up to the limit.”
       This method is perfect in design but is riddled with problems when applied. These permits tended to be given out to companies with ties to government officials. Also, when only some companies were given these rights, companies left had very little strong competition. This allowed companies to raise prices dramatically without any repercussions. When implemented in Europe, these permits were given out for free. This “led to higher prices for consumers and profits for polluters.”


How a Carbon Tax Would Work
       A carbon tax is meant to dissuade companies from releasing carbon dioxide into the air by creating a tax on an amount of CO2 given off by a company/material used by a company. Different bills and guidelines made by special interest groups, the treasury, and the EPA set the price of a metric ton of CO2 at somewhere between $30 and $50. However, most are not sure on when emissions should be taxed, and on who. So far, three main ways have been found to impose this tax: an upstream approach, under which the coal or gas itself would be taxed as soon as it is mined, a midstream approach, under which fuels leaving the refinery is taxed, and a downstream approach under which carbon emissions themselves are taxed. The upstream and midstream approaches are much more feasible, given that they can easily be checked as opposed to testing an exact amount of carbon dioxide released from a power plant.
       If either an upstream or midstream approach is used, each material must have a pre-set “price” based on the amount of CO2 given off when the material is burned. One possible guideline is shown to the below: 

Bituminous coal:            $1.40

Subbituminous coal:     $1.45

Lignite:                          $1.47

Crude Oil:                      $1.12

Gasoline:                       $1.07

Residual Fuel Oil:          $1.18

Natural Gas:                  $0.80

 

       Another and relatively new idea that has been introduced is a carbon dividend. Under this system, “[The air is treated] as a managed commons in which everyone owns a share.” In other words, all of the money raised by the tax is distributed evenly among people. This is supposed to make up for any rises in price that occur. However, the government tends to be against this because it does not benefit the government and because many politicians have ties to the companies that will have to pick up the tab for this tax.
       A third approach is to give the money gained by the tax to further help the environment. A bill introduced in Washington implemented this system. The bill delegated 70% of the proceedings to promote clean air and energy, 25%  to clean water and healthy forests, and 5% to healthy communities investments. Although bills like this one help the environment the most, they do not help the government or the people, and thus are unlikely to become taxes.


What Organizations, Agencies, and People are Involved in a Carbon Tax?
       A couple of organizations are completely devoted to creating a carbon tax. These include Americans for Carbon Dividends (AFCD), the Carbon Tax Center (CTC), among others. Other groups, such as some green groups, agree with a carbon tax, although it is not their main focus.
       On the other hand, some groups straight up disagree with the idea of a carbon tax, although for different ethical reasons. Some organizations, such as the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, simply disagree with the idea of tax swapping and do not think that a carbon tax would actually make a difference. However, other organizations, such as the American Energy Association (AEA), believe that a tax on carbon is wrong. They believe that one would hold back the U.S. economy, and take away the advantage of cheap energy from our businesses.
       A couple of government agencies have considered using a carbon tax. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is currently able to monitor and restrict carbon emissions, and have considered and wrote about carbon taxes many times. However, no law has come close to passing so far because of a lack of support from most Republicans and some Democrats. The U.S. Treasury has also written a report on how a carbon tax could work, and what
       Carbon taxes are almost stereotypically supported by Democrats and not Republicans. However, carbon taxes have recently been gaining support from the high-profile Republican Trent Lott, a former Senate majority leader, along with John Breaux, a former Democrat Deputy Majority Whip. These two men head an organization called Americans for Carbon Dividends (AFCD). Their website proposed a plan in which carbon is taxed, “Where fossil fuels enter the economy, meaning the mine, well or port,” in other words, an upstream plan. They set the price of CO2 at $40 per ton, which is near the $49 per metric ton proposed by the U.S. Treasury (see How a Carbon Tax Would Work). They also, as their name suggests, support the idea of using dividends to pay the people for any increase in energy bills.
       Despite their growing support, many politicians still do not support a carbon tax. This is do to the fact that many politicians have ties to the companies that are harmed by these taxes, along with many other more practical reasons. First of all, it is arguably nothing more than, “a tax on transportation fuels like gasoline and most forms or electricity,” which will simply increase prices. In addition, according to a third-party source, the U.N. found that a carbon tax, “would probably cause more harm than good,” in that the damage to the economy would be worse than the amount of help done to the environment.
       Most opponents to a carbon tax point out that 67 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels. Placing a tax on fossil fuels energy immediately makes energy unavailable to many people paying or struggling to pay their bills. As one source against a carbon tax puts it, “...this is the purpose of a carbon tax: to make the existing energy infrastructure more expensive.” The tax carbon makes goods and services more expensive, which increases the price of the goods themselves. Also, because all people will have an equal increase in their bills, opponents of a tax point out that low-income families will be harmed much more by this tax than upper-middle-class families that can easily pay for a relatively small increase in the price of electricity. According to these sources, an indirect increase to the low-income-families’ energy bills would result in families having to sacrifice other things, like putting food on the table, in order to pay for global warming.
       Yet other opponents argue that emissions might not even make a big difference. According to one source, “There is mounting evidence in the physical science of climate change to suggest that human emissions of carbon dioxide do not cause as much warming as is assumed in the current suite of official models.” In other words, sources claim that carbon dioxide might not actually cause climate change.

However, serious studies have disproven all of these claims. People struggling to pay their bills will be able to pay their bills from the money from the carbon dividend. Also, upper-class families tend to use more electricity than middle and low-class families, so all families have a proportional increase in price. In fact, if anything, this bill would help low-income families over high-income families, given that the dividend would amount to a higher proportion of a low-class family's income than that of a high-class family. Also, serious experiments have shown that carbon dioxide is actually the main cause of global warming.

All in all, we believe that a carbon tax must be created. Please spread the word about this. We need all the help we can get.

 

 

Links:

link to our Google Slides Presentation:

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1iLRzzF8yJrhZcRWvVsIOUZEzLnvfSEB2ttpm8C2zSCQ/edit?usp=sharing

Kids Fight Climate Change, a website from which much of our inspiration came from:

kidsfightclimatechange.com

Americans For Carbon Dividends:

afcd.org

 

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