Senior Republican economist calls for a Carbon Tax

Nicholas Gregory Mankiw was “chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. In 2006, he became an economic adviser to Mitt Romney and continued during Romney’s 2012 presidential bid.” (source: wikipedia)

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Mankiw , who is Chair of the Economics Department at Harvard University, wrote:

Among economists, the issue is largely a no-brainer. In December 2011, the IGM Forum asked a panel of 41 prominent economists about this statement: “A tax on the carbon content of fuels would be a less expensive way to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions than would a collection of policies such as ‘corporate average fuel economy’ requirements for automobiles.” Ninety percent of the panelists agreed.

Could such an overwhelming consensus of economists be wrong? Well, actually, yes. But in this case, I am confident that the economics profession has it right. The hard part is persuading the public and the politicians.

Coal: Bringing you fish too toxic to eat

This post is part of the research project: The Dirt on Coal
Photo Credit: heydrienne via Compfight ccPhoto Credit: heydrienne via Compfight cc

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I wrote a lot on this blog about the dangerous toxics that we carry in our bodies and that pass through us to our babies in the womb and in our breast milk.

So many things gall me about this issue. It seems crazy that we’ve come to a place in history where fish—the best possible source of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is critical for a baby’s brain and eye development—is so laced with contaminants, in particular methylmercury from coal plants, that it’s often too dangerous for expecting mothers to eat.

It galls me that the onus is on the “woman of childbearing age” to learn about and avoid certain fish and, worse, it’s up to her to weigh the benefits of crucial nutrients for fetal brain development against the risks of damage to her baby’s brain—all while together as a community we give polluters nearly free rein to contaminate those fish.

 

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It should be noted that the damage done by these toxics to developing brains is far from trivial. In 2000, the National Academy of Sciences released a report that concluded that each year in the United States, as many as 60,000 children are born at risk for neurodevelopmental problems owing to prenatal exposure to mercury. These are kids that the report described as “struggling to keep up in school and who might require remedial classes or special education.” Another study—an analysis of data gathered from 1999-2002 by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey—estimates that 200,000 to 400,000 babies born in the United States each year “have been exposed to mercury levels in their mothers’ wombs high enough to impair neurological development.”

Still, what is perhaps most galling to me is that most of the resources available about fish consumption, including the mainstream pregnancy books and popular expecting-mom websites, fail to mention where the dangerous mercury and other toxics come from. It is most often treated like it’s just there and has always been there—a natural occurring substance (you actually get those words a lot). No culprit, no causation. Blame the fish, I guess.

So I was pleased that Mark Bittman made the connection in the NYT yesterday:

If you’re like most people (including me, up until a month or two ago), you know that tuna and other top-of-the-food-chain fish contain unsafe levels of mercury and that childbirth-age women and nursing mothers, especially, are warned off these fish. What you don’t know, probably (I didn’t), is the mercury’s source, or how it gets in these fish.

Turns out that about three-quarters of it comes from coal-burning power plants; it dissolves in water, where micro-organisms convert it to methylmercury, a bio-available and highly toxic form that builds up in fish. The longer a fish lives, the more mercury builds in its flesh.

You could, of course, eat less big fish, but there are other sources of mercury: increasingly, it’s being found in vegetables and especially grains like rice that are grown near older, and even no longer functioning, coal-burning plants.

Bittman chronicles the “dirty and depressing” Environmental Protection Agency saga to regulate these dangerous substances. Almost needless to say, he laments, as the EPA insists that coal plants take measures to clean up our air and water—and fish, “the industry and its representatives are fighting these regulations and trying to stall their implementation with all their power.”

After decades of delays and industry ploys, in December 2011, the agency developed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), likely to go into effect in 2015. MATS looks pretty good. By regulating mercury emissions, it also decreases many other harmful emissions—including chromium, nickel and arsenic, hydrochloric and other acid gases, formaldehyde, and soot—stuff that gets into our bodies in a variety of ways and can cause all kinds of health problems, including respiratory disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

By reducing mercury and the raft of other dangerous stuff that coal brings with it, implementing MATS is likely to pay off in sizable health cost savings. According to Bittman:

The EPA estimates that implementing MATS, which will cost power producers around $9 billion annually, will save as many as 11,000 lives per year while significantly reducing asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis and other diseases. These plus other factors, the agency estimates, are worth as much as $90 billion to society. Ten dollars in health benefits for every dollar spent in pollution reduction, plus an overall increase in quality of life.

So it’s not just every mom out for herself, keeping her children away from dangerous fish. It’s not just about tuna. At least it shouldn’t be. It’s about our food and air and health—and even about lots of money.

We all have a stake in it. And I haven’t even gotten into the climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning coal. (We do cover that now and again though.) Bittman (albeit in a footnote) reminds us that a “further unintended benefit of MATS is that by forcing the closure of some coal plants, shifting electricity production to natural gas, and so on, it will reduce carbon emissions.”

Back when I was pregnant, I dreamed about launching a one-woman, vigilante campaign to insert information about the source of mercury—coal-fired power plants—each and every time any pregnancy book or website or hospital pamphlet discussed the dangers of eating too much fish. But then I had the baby and got kind of busy, so that didn’t happen (I encourage you to write to editors of those publications though; I did back then and I think some of the articles have improved slightly, though it’s rare to see coal pinpointed).

However, I still do think the effort is worthwhile. There’s something about moms (and dads) that can get them riled up in new and exceptional ways once they make the connection between coal and fish and their babies’ brains. (As Bittman points out, that’s exactly why journalist and mother Dominique Browning started Moms Clean Air Force.) And I think moms—and anybody who cares about kids and public health—are right to stand up and insist on better standards for coal plants and to think more generally about what role a dirty, last-century fuel like coal should play—if any—in shaping our kids’ health and their future.

Originally published at Sightline Daily

Let's stop pretending on the Keystone XL Pipeline

I’ve got a great idea. Let’s stop pretending that Obama isn’t going to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. Let’s stop pretending that one more trenchant op-ed, one more Change.org petition, one more Sierra Club website, one more MoveOn mass email of the White House is going to sway anyone who has a stake in this project. Let’s stop pretending that some photo-op of famous progressives and Hollywood actors chaining themselves to the White House fence is going to make a difference. Let’s stop pretending that some group of Democrats are actually going to grow a spine, and move Congress to pass some environmental legislation that actually would get in the way of this monstrosity. Let’s just stop all that, and get real.

Obama going to approve it. I know, it’s horrible, it’s the worst, it’s the capstone in the Alberta Tar Sands project, the be-all, end-all environmental nightmare. You don’t want to believe it’s going to be approved. But it is. Why? Because there’s money to be made. Because it’s promoted by the fossil fuels industry. Because it runs through one of the most conservative parts of the country. Because they want to thumb their nose at Venezuela. Because…well, who cares? Because they can. So let’s stop kidding ourselves, and for once, practice being proactive.

You see, here’s their strategy: They want you to play the game you’re playing now. They want you absorbed in writing letters, and signing petitions, and donating on line, and all that nonsense. Because they know damn well they don’t have to pay any attention to it. Detroit’s got a three-story tall mountain of petroleum coke tar sand waste rising on land owned by the Koch family. That’s real. Your email? Sorry, not real. But valuable to them, as it keeps you from organizing for a real battle. Which is what this is going to have to be if we stand a chance to really stop this thing.

Here’s what it’s really going to take:

  • A lot of people are going to have to get arrested. Most on misdemeanors, some on trumped-up felony charges. Note I said “a lot.” A few marquee arrests aren’t going to cut it. We’re talking mass civil disobedience, occupation-style actions. Not as a one-time event, but over and over and over, at one location after another.
  • National resistance specifically NOT headed by Big Green organizations. ‘Cause, let’s face it, it’s nice to have the occasional numbers they can generate, but they don’t have the stomach for this kind of thing. Here’s what they’re going to call for after it’s approved and they mount some large, symbolic (read: non-threatening) actions – “environmental safeguards.” Yep, that’s what they’ll want; a kinder, gentler pipeline. Which they will justify on the whiny pretext of “being realistic.” No, this kind of national organization is going to be run by activists who have serious experience in confronting private industry and the state.
  • Local organizing right down to the neighborhood level. This is going to have to made real to ordinary people as the catastrophe it actually is. That means knocking on doors, setting up tables on street corners, holding town meetings. Turning off your TV, shutting down the computer, leaving your house, and having actual human-to-human interaction. Think of the anti-Monsanto marches that just happened in over 150 cities worldwide, and you begin to get the picture.
  • Staging media events that are impossible to ignore. No more marching around in circles hoping the press release you sent gets picked up by the mainstream press. We need imagination, lots of it. That means letting youth run the show. ‘Cause it’s their energy that always makes for interesting street theater than anything the 60’s generation is able to come up with at this point.
  • Getting comfortable with people you are uncomfortable with. That means First Peoples and their leadership style. That means anarchists. It means red-state rebels, who don’t like snotty urban liberals much more than they like pipelines, and who are on the front lines of this battle through a simple accident of geography.
  • Kissing, goodbye finally, once and for all, to the myth of the Democratic Party as an ally. They’re not, the national leadership is not, and never has been. Are there good people among the local Dem precincts? You bet. But the Pelosi-Obama-Biden-Clinton leadership, and their Big Labor allies who just approved at their convention the building of unnamed “pipelines,” well, sorry, but they’ve been bought like the sheep they are. So let’s move on, OK?

I could probably name a few other features of what’s coming, but you get the idea. A real struggle, nothing “symbolic” about it. Either that, or let’s just admit we’re licked before we start, and skip going through the motions. Not another letter, not another petition, not another email. A fight, finally, even if we go down swinging. Win or lose, let’s make it the kind of fight that they’ll remember for a long, long time.

 

 

Anger over proposed coal trains unites coastal communities

Coal-fired plants threaten local economies, ecological systems, and citizens' health.

“I’m not any kind of professional organizer,” says anti-coal train activist Lynne Oulman, “but I just got so angry about what was about to happen here.”

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In Lynne’s case, “here” means Bellingham, Wash. But cities and towns all along the Pacific Northwest coast have united to oppose proposed deep-water ports, shipping terminals, and the potentially protracted trains that would be rumbling to and fro carrying loads of coal from mines in the Midwest bound for shipment to the unregulated belchfire plants of China.

Canadians, too, recognize the threat, as they gather to voice their disapproval of coal exports from their ports.

Among the chief concerns of folks faced with the prospect of thousands of tons of the dirty fuel rolling through their communities and/or off-loading the black ecological plague nearby:

  • The detrimental health effects of coal dust wafting from the passing trains and billowing out during the process of dumping it at the ports.
  • The detrimental health effects of breathing in the resulting pollution from unfettered Chinese coal-fired plants when it inevitably makes its way back to the Pacific Northwest via the prevailing weather patterns.
  • The detrimental economic effects of traffic delays and environmental degradation that could quickly turn what are now highly regarded communities into icky, smudgy societal pariahs.

Add to all this the dawning awareness that China, in a few short years, may lose its taste for America’s high-priced coal   and a clear picture of corporate greed emerges. Short-term profit, long-term loss. Wall Street wins, Main Street loses.

How to derail the corporate-backed coal train juggernaut? Lynne Oulman favors a three-pronged approach:

  • Recruit local businesses to stand in opposition to this economic and environmental threat.
  • Contact your local elected officials. Urge them to pass resolutions against using your community as a thoroughfare or dumping ground for coal.
  • Connect with other groups promoting allied issues both locally and nationwide. “Stand with Native Americans” when it comes to water rights, suggests Oulman. Fight fracking and the Keystone Pipeline. “They’re all intertwined,” she concludes.

As are the train tracks that snake up and down the Pacific Northwest coast.

Originally published at Examiner.com

Talking Carbon Taxes, Free-Enterprise Style

Finding common ground with talking points from the conservative play book.
and on April 26, 2013 at 10:02 am
      This post is part of the research project: Flashcards
Photo Credit: Orin Zebest via Compfight ccPhoto Credit: Orin Zebest via Compfight cc

What’s the best way to make a case for a carbon pollution tax to conservative audiences? Why not speak their language?

Just listen to the outspoken conservatives who favor a tax on carbon pollution. Again and again they talk up carbon pricing with the familiar language of the market, calling for a level playing field and accountability for the true costs of energy, and touting the enormous opportunity in homegrown, free-enterprise energy solutions.

These conservatives also like the idea of swapping taxes from from stuff we like—jobs, income, hard work—to something we’d be better off with less of: carbon pollution. In fact, pro-carbon tax conservatives talk about a carbon tax swap as a “golden opportunity,” an “old-fashioned, straightforward” solution, a “win-win” and a “no-brainer.” And they see a tax on carbon pollution as a good way to bolster our national security, strengthen our economy, and create “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

 

All that said, a carbon tax is still not a slam dunk with all conservative audiences.

Indeed, economist and former American Enterprise Institute scholar, Irwin Stelzer, sees that “Conservatives have before them a golden opportunity to accomplish several important conservative goals, but are so frightened by words like ‘tax,’… and ‘global warming,’ … that they are frozen in opposition to programs they should support.”

And, while many conservatives would prefer market instruments such as a carbon pollution tax to, say, Environmental Protection Agency regulations, most aren’t easily convinced that carbon pricing will actually be truly revenue-neutral.

But, come on! When the “father of supply side economics,” Art Laffer, says a carbon tax would mean we “can at once clean the air, create jobs, and improve the national security of the United States—a triple play for the next American century,” and George Will (grudgingly) agrees with Al Gore that we should “tax what we burn, not what we earn,” it’s a sure sign of promising common ground.

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Here’s a start at finding a common language, based on direct quotes from leading conservatives:

Carbon Pollution Tax, Free-Enterprise Style

Fix market distortions to spark innovation: A carbon pollution tax levels the playing field and clears the way for the free enterprise system to unleash the creativity of the market and deliver the energy of the future.

Recognize the full costs of our oil dependence: A carbon tax means accountability for the true costs of energy, attaching the national security, health, and environmental costs to carbon-based fuels like oil.

Tax the bad, not the good: We all want less pollution and more income and jobs. So, tax what you want less of and stop taxing what you want more of. It’s a no-brainer.

Making the case for carbon pollution taxes

There are growing ranks of conservative leaders—among them, prominent economists, academics, journalists, and current and former elected officials—who’ve been outspoken about their support for a carbon pollution tax. They are making the case for a carbon tax based on deep seated conservative principles. As Republican Bob Inglis puts it, “In reality, conservatives have the answer to energy and climate. It’s free enterprise and accountability.”

George Shultz.

George Shultz.

Stability and predictability is good for business.

  • “We’ve been on this roller coaster ride. This time it’s important to make it different. Every spike in the price of oil has put our economy in a recession. We want to have more diverse energy resources so our economy won’t be so vulnerable to the oil market… It’s a no-brainer.”—George Shultz
  • “It’s a terrible injustice to the business community” that the United States hasn’t passed either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program, since it creates energy uncertainty …  “Utilities don’t know what to invest in.”—Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office and chief economic policy advisor for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Bob Inglis.

Bob Inglis.

Recognize the Full Cost of Oil Dependence

  • What we pay at the meter and at the pump doesn’t account for the emergency room visits and lost work days triggered by coal pollution, or the blood and treasure spent protecting overseas supply lines, or the chronic and costly risk that rising temperatures pose for our communities and enterprises from forestry to fishing and farming. … Just because these costs are socialized does not mean that they magically disappear.”—Alex Bozmoski, Strategy Director for the Energy and Enterprise Initiative.
  • “Many forms of energy produce side effects, like pollution, that are a cost to society. The producers don’t bear those costs; society does. There has to be a way to level the playing field and cause those forms of energy to bear their true costs. There has to be a way to level the playing field and cause those forms of energy to bear their true costs. That means putting a price on carbon…if we can capitalize on these opportunities, we will have a much better energy future, from the standpoint of our national defense, our national economy, and our national environment, including our climate.”—George Shultz, US Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, now chair of the Hoover Institution’s Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy.
  • “A carbon tax would attach the national security and environmental costs to carbon-based fuels like oil, causing the market to recognize the price of these negative externalities”—Laffer and Inglis

Eliminate market distortions

  • Get the prices right and let the competition rip. Because carbon is not priced into the cost of energy consumption—indeed, such consumption is enhanced by the variety of net subsidies accorded the oil industry—we cannot know just how competitive solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy would be in a non-distorted market, or whether they are a drag on the efficiency of the energy market.”—Irwin Stelzer, Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson Institute’s Economic Policy Studies Group (and formerly with the American Enterprise Institute).
  • “[A carbon pollution tax is an] opportunity to fix a market distortion that prevents the free enterprise system from delivering the fuels of the future.”—Bob Inglis, former Republican representative from South Carolina who now works for the libertarian R Street Institute and also heads the Energy and Enterprise Initiative (E&EI), a campaign, based at George Mason University, devoted entirely to “unleash[ing] the power of free enterprise to deliver the fuels of the future.”

Art Laffer.

Art Laffer.

Unleash the creativity and innovation of the market

Gregory Mankiw.

Gregory Mankiw.

Tax the bad, not the good; keep it revenue-neutral

Naturally, there are details and even certain outcomes upon which climate hawks and pro-carbon pricing conservatives may not entirely agree—the role of government and regulations in solutions, for example. But the differences don’t negate the common ground. And it’s worth finding language that helps all of us see our shared values and goals.

 

Mark Feldman is a writer and communications consultant who works with environmental nonprofits, public agencies, and green businesses. As a principal of Writing Works he helps organizations and businesses communicate effectively and creatively.

Thanks to Todd Myer for his valuable feedback.

Originally published at Sightline.org

Call state senators to pass community solar!

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Community Solar w/10 Yr. Rolling Incentive Passed House!

Call Now to Help It Survive Committee & Get Through the Senate
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Spine Thank You graphicPLEASE Call Senate Energy Committee Chair & Members TODAY & TONIGHT. Ask them to “Stand up for public benefit renewable energy (community solar) and clean energy jobs. New energy production facilities depends upon their bipartisan leadership. Please, Do Not fail Washington workers, our ec onomy and our future.” Our activism today and tonight night may encourage positive action at tomorrow’s hearing. Details belowLet’s also take this opportunity to thank Rep. Jeff Morris for his leadership. Here’s a SPINE Thank You form to print, fill out and mail to: Rep. Morris, 436A Legislative Building, Post Office Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600

Senator Room Phone
Ericksen, Doug (R) Chair LEG 414 (360) 786-7682
Sheldon, Tim (D) Vice Chair LEG 312 (360) 786-7668
Ranker, Kevin (D) * JAC 215 (360) 786-7678
Billig, Andy (D) LEG 412 (360) 786-7604
Brown, Sharon (R) INB 201 (360) 786-7614
Chase, Maralyn (D) JAC 241 (360) 786-7662
Cleveland, Annette (D) JAC 230 (360) 786-7696
Honeyford, Jim (R) INB 107 (360) 786-7684
Litzow, Steve (R) LEG 416 (360) 786-7641

Engrossed 2nd Substitute” HB1301 miraculously passed out of the House March 9. What was originally a solar for millionaires bill transformed into a bill that rescues community solar! It was referred to Senate Committee for Trade and Economic Development and re-referred it to Energy, Environment & Telecommunications.

Energy, Environment & Telecommunications will hold a public hearing at 8am Wednesday (TOMORROW), March 20. See committee info HERE (Not sure which room/building, but I’m sure you’ll find it.)
We have no guarantee that the Chair Ericksen, Doug (R) Chair , will bring this bill to a vote, and we ABSOLUTELY need him to do that. We must demonstrate adequate support and enthusiasm for the legislation that Senator Ericksen feels compelled to bring it to a vote, and for there to be adequate committee support for it to pass. Due to the committee make up and some additions to the
bill, i.e. a subsidy for utilities to create solar systems – passing this is not going to be easy.

  • Please Senator Ericksen’s office requesting that he do bring this bill to a vote. Call (360) 786-7682. Email Doug.Ericksen@leg.wa.gov
  • Please Call Senator Steve Litzow (R) who was a panelist at the January WEC/Environmental Priorities meeting session in Bellevue and ask him to support this bill and encourage Sen. Ericksen to bring it to a vote. Call (360) 786-7641. Email Steve.Litzow@leg.wa.gov
  • Call the Senator Sheldon (D?) who recently opposed Gov. Inslee’s Climate bill and politely ask that he please support HB1301. [If he wants to muck with it, he could lower the new utility incentive by half and be an anti-corporate welfare hero without cheating municipalities and schools of this awesome private/public partnership opportunity.

Senator Ranker and Senator Chase are leaders we can likely count on, but calls of encouragement to them and help them know this is a priority for communities across the State.

Sadly, I cannot attend the March 20 hearing as I am at the Univ. of Michigan, so I hope others will do what they can. Calls to Keith Phillips, Energy Policy Advisor to Governor Inslee asking for Executive leadership to keep community solar alive could also be very important. 360 902-0630

In collaboration and gratitude,

Bill Moyer
Backbone Campaign
206-356-9980

Paul Cienfuegos on Community Rights Ordinances

Five minutes and 20 seconds. Grab a cup of coffee and give Paul a listen.

Paul and I agree on a lot of things, but we both start from the point that single issue activism is not going to get the work done.

Paul is a Evergreen State College (TESC) alum, here is Paul’s website. He has done trainings in Olympia and Shelton on community rights and helped Salish Sea activists shut down the biomass projects a couple of years ago.

ALERT! Millionaire or Community Solar?

Vashon Community Solar Banner
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ALERT! Millionaire Community Solar?

Call TODAY to Save Community Solar in Washington State,
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Millionaire Community Solar?

Community Solar in Washington State will either be saved or killed this legislative session in Washington State. Your tax dollars will continue to feed the incentive program, but instead of providing incentives for renewable energy for public benefit, they will used to subsidize solar for millionaires and corporations. Unless you speak up NOW.

Immediate action is needed to ensure that incentives for solar on schools, libraries, tribal centers, municipal buildings, community colleges are given priority over solar on CostCo.

The legislation is complicated. There are actually two bills in play. HB1105, by Rep. John McCoy could fix the current program. As currently written HB1301 by Rep. Jeff Morris will displace it directing incentive money to millionaires and corporations, killing community solar. There are many interests are at the table. Installers, equipment producers, and utilities are represented, but communities, municipalities, schools and the 98% are not. The missing voice is yours. You can dive into the messy details at VashonCommunitySolar.org

Please call your legislators and most urgently, members of these House Committees: (Follow the links for phone numbers and contact information)
Environment (Meeting today 2/13 at 1:30pm)
Technology and Economic Development (Met in executive session today at 8am, likely sending bill to Finance Committee.)
Finance (They will likely have to review either bill.)