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Obama Victory Resurrects Climate Issue, but Carbon Tax Likely to Face Uphill Battle

November 12, 2012 in World Climate Change Report · Leave a Comment 

By Dean Scott

WASHINGTON, D.C.—President Obama’s re-election and unexpected gains by Democrats in the Senate have environmental groups gearing up on several fronts to push for more U.S. action on climate change, including a possible resurrection of a proposal to tax the carbon content of fuel.

Both Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged action on climate change after the Nov. 6 election gave the president four more years and Senate Democrats effective control of 55 seats, with two independents expected to caucus with Democrats. Republicans now have 45 seats.

The president Nov. 6 vowed to work to ensure American’s future “isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet” (216 WCCR, 11/7/12).

With the president and Congress about to begin talks to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to go into effect in January, some environmental groups are weighing whether it is time to line up behind carbon taxes, which could provide much-needed revenue while significantly cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change.

“The Sierra Club supports [a] carbon tax. We think it is a unique opportunity to solve multiple problems with a single solution,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune told reporters Nov. 7.

Tax Hike Faces Opposition

The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations have yet to rally around a single approach and face difficult odds on any proposal to raises taxes in the House, where Republicans, who have long been opposed to any tax increases and skeptical of climate science, remain firmly in control.

But with the fiscal cliff on the horizon, the carbon tax—which analysts project could raise between $80 billion and $90 billion in its first year and, if gradually raised annually, more than $300 billion a year by 2050—could generate more revenue, help cut the deficit, or even “help alleviate the tax burden” by allowing Congress and the president to lower income or other taxes, Brune said.

“We also see it [a carbon tax] as an opportunity to stimulate clean energy investment [and] reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to build a coalition of NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], academics, and policymakers across both sides of the aisle who can find common interest around a single policy,” he said.

“We are seeing more opportunities there than just about any other issue we are working on right now,” he said.

Other Environmental Groups More Cautious

But other environmental advocates were not quite ready to line up behind a carbon tax. “I don’t think we should get locked into one kind of policy approach. …

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