Today, my latest op-ed piece was published in the Albany Times Union. :)
Energy drives our cars, heats our homes, fuels our factories and runs our farms. Lights, refrigeration, technology, hospitals, schools, homes… Affordable energy is crucial to our economy, to our jobs and to our lives. We must support policies that make energy affordable for all New Yorkers. Tax energy? Taxing energy or placing a fee on energy would make it less affordable and be bad for business and bad for families. John Faso is right, we cannot use energy taxes to make energy unaffordable (called by any name, fee or tax).
However, we must be clear. Taxing energy is NOT the same as taxing carbon. Clean energy, carbon free energy, includes solar, wind and nuclear. These forms of energy, with the right infrastructure, can drive our cars, and fuel our homes, factories, farms, schools, and hospitals. Taxing carbon will not drive up these energy costs.
But why would we want to tax carbon in the first place? Burning carbon-based energy releases greenhouse gases that drive climate change. We have seen the consequences of that first-hand with Sandy, Irene and Lee, with worse impacts assured if we continue to burn fossil fuels. A carbon fee or tax will raise the costs of carbon-based energy, making clean energy more competitive and speed our transition away from fossil fuels, helping us to preserve a stable climate and a livable world.
It is true that the cost of fossil fuels would rise. However, that does not make energy less affordable for families, even those that still rely on fossil fuels. Why? Because the carbon tax can be made revenue neutral, meaning all the collected funds are returned to all citizens equally in the form of a monthly dividend.
In the 19th district, it is projected that the overwhelming majority (91%) of those living below the poverty line would receive back more in the dividend than they pay in the fee. The wealthiest, who have larger consumption, would pay more in the fee than they receive back, but their losses would amount to only a tiny fraction of their income (an average of 0.19%). We would see similar outcomes across New York State. In this, Zephyr Teachout is right. Revenue neutral carbon fees, or taxes, ensure that all citizens have the funds to cover increases in costs, keeping even carbon energy affordable as we transition.
Thankfully, New York is already leading the nation by supporting our nuclear plants, installing renewables, building infrastructure for electric cars, and developing clean energy and clean energy infrastructure. If a national carbon tax were enacted, New York would be prepared for the transition. More importantly, the rest of the nation would have incentive to join us. We would see more money invested nationally in the very renewables we are already building and developing here, accelerating the drop in their cost, benefiting us all. Moreover, we would see fewer carbon emissions and have a better chance for a stable climate.
By any name, a revenue neutral carbon tax or fee will ensure that New York is not alone in creating a carbon-free economy. And, it will ensure that we keep the lights on and our lives fueled. Most importantly, it will push the rest of the country to catch up to the efforts we are already making as New Yorkers to be good stewards of the climate.
Claire Cohen Cortright of Glen Spey is a chapter leader of the Upper Delaware Valley Citizens' Climate Lobby.