Cities and States Continue to Lead on Climate

Evan Manvel

The carbon tax has not weakened the province’s economy. Despite the levy, its economy is doing well. What is more, the tax is popular.

With Congress the mess that it is, and strong international agreements hard to come by, it's easy to fall into cynicism about acting on climate change. But citizens and state and local leaders aren't throwing in the towel yet, and the news keeps confirming the need to act.

One fateful decision is expected in the next few months: the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would bring extremely dirty fossil fuels from Canadian tar sands into the United States. Because of the international nature of the project, the Obama administration has the power to reject or approve it. In Rolling Stone, Bill McKibben writes “the Keystone XL pipeline wraps up every kind of environmental devastation in one 1,700-mile-long disaster” and says climate expert James Hansen argues “opening up the tar sands to heavy exploitation would mean ‘it’s essentially game over’ for the climate.” Nebraska's Republican Governor has called a special legislative session to focus on the pipeline, which threatens to the state's largest aquifer. In an interview with a Nebraska TV station, President Obama noted the potential safety threats to human health while not taking a stand on the project.

Instead of focusing attention on the Keystone -- a seminal environmental decision -- the national media (at least some of them) have been covering the news that a prominent critic, funded by the Koch brothers’ oil money – is stating unequivocally that global warming is happening. That simply confirms the scientific consensus, but hopefully it will help the media both hold climate deniers’ feet to the fire and focus on climate solutions, instead of made-up controversy. (An interesting discussion about media and climate is here.)

There's also important local news. California recently finalized the details of its cap-and-trade system, which resulted from a 2006 law. This is will have far-reaching impacts, as California has the world’s eighth largest economy and a gross state product of $1.9 trillion. California has often been willing to debunk sky-will-fall scenarios through taking action, and hopefully its leadership will inspire other states. The Associated Press summarized the effort:

Starting in 2013, the plan places emissions allowances on power plants and other of the worst polluting facilities, with others joining in 2015. In total, the plan will cover 85 percent of California’s emissions.

The program will require pollution producers like refineries and cement manufacturers to buy permits, called allowances, from the state. Each permit allows for a specified amount of greenhouse gases each year, and will decline over time. The permits can then be sold in a marketplace by companies who cut emissions and have extra allowances.

For those who doubt the program will be retained, consider British Columbia’s carbon tax, implemented in 2008. Three years later, it has majority political support. This July The Economist reviewed the program:

Gordon Campbell, the Liberal premier who introduced the tax, won a provincial election the next year. When arguing for the carbon tax, Mr Campbell faced the same political obstacles that have stymied such plans elsewhere. Only environmentalists were enthusiastic. Businesses feared it would add to costs and slow the economy. The leftish New Democratic Party worried it would hurt the poor. But these fears have proved groundless.

The new tax has not weakened the province’s economy. Despite the levy, its economy is doing well. What is more, the tax is popular.

Since 2008 fuel consumption per head in the province has dropped by 4.5%, more than elsewhere in Canada. British Columbians use less fuel than any other Canadians. And British Columbians pay lower income taxes too.

British Columbia has shown the rest of Canada, a country with high carbon emissions per head, that a carbon tax can achieve multiple benefits at minimal cost.

Also in recent news, yesterday voters in Boulder, Colorado voted to create a municipal energy utility, opening the way for what they hope will be a 60% cut in carbon emissions with no increase in rates (in part by redirecting $12 million in private profits toward public ends). The vote came despite supporters being outspent by an eleven-to-one margin. Van Jones' video about the Boulder measures is above. Boulder previously passed a small carbon tax.

And yesterday OPB reported on a study released by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality quantifying something we suspected: products produced in Oregon have a much lower climate footprint than those produced in China or India. Buying products made in Oregon is both good for local jobs and good for the environment.

Hopefully, Oregon's state and local leaders will continue to be aware of the need to act locally on the climate crisis. Taking action will be good for jobs and good for the economy, and is a requirement if Oregon is to thrive for generations to come.

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    Watching the President and the State Department struggle with the Keystone XL project is fascinating. Every environmental group between here and hell believes Keystone would be a disaster, but you have to wonder how many votes the environmental community can bring to the table as compared to the labor and business and local government groups that support Keystone. As a betting man, I would not bet against President Obama and Hillary Clinton giving the green light to Keystone.


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