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

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

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.

If 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...

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.

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