Oped in Anchorage Daily News

Anchorage Daily News logo trans

OPED, MARCH 26, 2014

Bogus attacks on Begich shouldn’t deter us from smart carbon tax

By George Donart

By now, most Alaskans have seen the out-of-state ads attacking Sen. Mark Begich and trying to scare us about a carbon tax “that will cost the average family over $2,000 annually.”

As they say at Burger King, “Would you like fries with that Whopper?”

The nonpartisan group FactCheck.org revealed that claims in these ads pegged the baloney meter. The vote alluded to in the ad was for an amendment stating that if a carbon tax is ever passed, all revenue would have to be returned to the American people. To recap: Not a vote for a carbon tax, only a vote that if a carbon tax is passed, money must be given to American families, not the government.

In defending himself against these attacks, it’s too bad Begich is not underlining this point, because this is actually a great idea: A tax on carbon that pays you.

As the effects of climate change become ever more apparent — the I-dirt-arod, for instance — we have to find a way to reduce the carbon emissions that accelerate the warming in our atmosphere and oceans.

In Alaska, we have plenty reasons to move quickly and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. One reason with a direct impact on livelihoods of thousands of Alaskan families: high levels of carbon dioxide are turning Alaska’s seas so acidic the shells of creatures our salmon depend on are dissolving. If this trend continues, we could lose all our salmon.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has acknowledged the need to act on climate change. In a recent interview with Bloomberg BNA, “We’re putting more things into the air and the water than we ever have in many, many parts of the world,” Sen. Murkowski said. “So, let’s be responsible in addressing what we’re contributing” to climate change. “I’m one that is big into self-responsibility. I think that we should lead in that way.”

Murkowski’s great concern is that any solution we come up with not be a burden on families, especially lower- and middle-income households: “What I don’t want to do is put the folks I work for — who are already at a place of energy poverty and energy insecurity — and make them less secure than they are right now.”

She’s right. We must protect families. Citizens’ Climate Lobby recommends a steadily rising tax on carbon-based fuels that, like our PFD, returns all revenue to households. Direct payment to individuals is preferred, though some lawmakers might promote returning the revenue through tax cuts. Either way, it doesn’t grow the size of government.

Detractors often say that a carbon tax will tank the economy and kill jobs, but a well-designed carbon tax that recycles money back into the economy will have the opposite effect. We already know how Alaska’s PFD fires our economy. Now, a study from Regional Economic Models, Inc. looked at the economic impact such a tax would have on California. It found that, as long as all revenue is returned to the public, a slowly-rising tax on CO2 would, over a 20 year span, actually add hundreds of thousands of jobs and increase GDP.

What about other nations? China and India are spewing ever-growing amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Won’t a carbon tax put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage while doing little to curb emissions elsewhere?

These are good questions, and that’s why a carbon tax should include broader tariffs on imports and exports involving nations that don’t put a price on carbon. This will maintain a level playing field for U.S. companies and provide the incentive for other nations to follow our lead in taxing carbon.

A first-rate, revenue-neutral carbon tax doesn’t make me afraid. In fact, it gives me great hope. Our window of opportunity to avoid the tipping point of climate disaster is quickly closing. The misleading attacks on Sen. Begich should not deter us from a sorely-needed climate solution that both our senators could support — a tax on carbon that gives revenue back to the people.

George Donart is a commercial fisherman and member of the Anchorage chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.