February 11, 2008

Ithaca Supports Fed. Carbon Tax

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Last Wednesday, the Ithaca Common Council voted in favor of a resolution urging federal and state officials to support a federal tax on carbon emissions. According to Sylvester Johnson ’71, a coordinator involved in drafting the resolution, the motion was the first mark of support for the initiative from local governments across the nation.
The Council voted 9-0-1 in favor of the resolution, which supports imposing a federal tax on carbon emissions as an alternative to implementing a national cap on carbon emissions.
The cap would impose a limit on carbon emissions and require businesses to purchase pollution allowances from the government in order to exceed the set cap.
While presidential hopefuls have supported the cap and trade system, environmental activists are skeptical of the policy.
Alderperson Nancy Schuler (D-4th Ward) abstained from voting on the resolution.
“I wasn’t sure of the accuracy of the statements in the list of 25 ‘whereases’ to justify the notion,” Schuler said. “When the resolution came to the full board at about 11 p.m., it was impractical to try to amend on the floor at that hour. Therefore, I decided not to pursue the issue.”
Schuler, however, acknowledged, “a carbon tax is preferable to a credit cap system.”
Curbing carbon emissions has been a prominent issue on the presidential campaign trail.
“Whether the next president is a Republican or Democrat, legislation is likely to get enacted to reduce fossil fuel emissions, with the options being a federal carbon tax or emissions trading,” Johnson said at the Council meeting on Feb. 6.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the three frontrunners in the current presidential race, all support imposing a national carbon cap as a method of reducing carbon emissions, as opposed to a federal tax.
“Emissions trading acts like a disguised tax,” Johnson said. “Trading is more expensive and at the same time less effective and more readily abused than an actual tax.”
Carlos Rymer ’08, president of the Sustainability Hub, further acknowledged that while a cap and trade “scheme” would be effective, it could unfairly benefit corporate interests.
“It has been shown, by economists, that a carbon tax is more progressive and would be better for the economy. A cap and trade system favors some over others and that’s why lobbyists are pushing politicians into this direction,” Rymer said.
Christina Copeland ’11, a member of the Sustainability Hub, said that while imposing a national cap on carbon emissions may have positive intentions, it may be difficult to implement.
“[A cap and trade system] is hard to initiate and have a lot of participants because it involves many corporations and red tape to address and get through,” Copeland said. “A carbon tax is quick to enact and covers a much wider scope than the cap and trade system does.”
According to Johnson, a member of the Climate Change Action Group of Central New York, the resolution was sent to various elected officials representing Ithaca, and to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Ithaca’s support for the resolution represents a first step in a nationwide campaign for a federal tax on carbon emissions.
“The passage of a resolution in support of a federal carbon tax by Ithaca’s Common Council was the political equivalent of turning lead to gold, making a new tax politically possible by publicizing its benefits over the disguised tax, emissions trading,” Johnson stated in an e-mail.
Rymer is optimistic about the future success of similar resolutions.
“I think others will follow Ithaca’s example. The Bay Area in California is applying a carbon fee, and a few other cities already put it in place,” Rymer said.
Johnson expressed further hope for the initiative’s success to the Council.
“As the number of local governments that pass such resolutions increases nationwide in a matter of months, the magnitude of the news will increase with greater publicity strengthening the message that a carbon tax is politically possible,” Johnson said.