December 30, 2011

On taxing carbon

How encouraging it is to discover that members of our government are openly talking about a tax on carbon (“Senators emphasize united energy voice: Problems remain with implementing national energy tax,” The Journal, December 1, 2011).

What we pay to burn fossil fuels does not account for the damage they do to our health, landscape and climate. This is an injustice that must be remedied, and one of the best ways of doing so is with a carbon tax, providing it’s well designed and implemented.

We don’t have such a tax in Alberta.

Alberta’s carbon tax fails on two accounts. First, it’s based on emissions intensity (emissions produced per unit of product), rather than total emissions. Second, it’s applied only to facilities that emit more than 100,000 tonnes of green house gases a year.

Under this tax scheme, all participating facilities could meet their intensity requirement, while total emissions continue rising. This would be the case, were our federal and provincial governments to succeed in their plan to triple oilsands production by 2030.

In short, Alberta’s carbon tax does not meet the fundamental requirement: reduce our green house gas emissions.

A better approach is the "fee and dividend plan" put forward by Dr. James Hansen. Under this plan, "a fee is collected at the mine or port of entry for each fossil fuel." The public doesn’t pay any tax or fee directly. They pay through the increased cost of the fossil fuels they burn.

But here’s the kicker. All the money collected is distributed equally among the citizens. Canadians that burn less fuel receive more money than they pay out for the added costs, while those that burn more receive less than they pay out. As the fee rises, there's an even greater incentive to reduce carbon emissions.

On a national scale, the Hansen plan is the one worth adopting

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