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Editorial: Will the world go for a carbon tax?

Charleston Gazette Editorial

Next year could bring an international treaty that eventually would damage West Virginia’s coal industry, and the gas industry to lesser degree.

The controversial 1997 Kyoto Protocol against air pollution will expire in 2020. To replace it, delegates are to meet in Paris to draft a worldwide agreement to combat damage from fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas, but especially coal.

Losses inflicted by carbon pollution — human sickness, sea rise and worse storms from global warming, harm to plants and animals, etc. — cost the world $1.6 trillion yearly, according to the September-October issue of Harvard Magazine. The Paris assembly is likely to advocate a worldwide tax on carbon fumes to reduce damage and generate revenue.

Economist Dale Jorgenson, author of “Double Dividend: Environmental Taxes and Fiscal Reform in the United States,” told the university magazine that a tax of about $20 per ton of carbon emissions would clean international air immensely.

America spewed 5 billion tons of carbon in 2000, he said, but the upsurge of “fracking” and cleaner natural gas — which grabbed much of the power plant business — reduced U.S. pollution by 13 percent today. The economist said carbon capture and storage, which pumps carbon dioxide into depleted underground gas strata, is unlikely to help. “No version to date has achieved any kind of commercial success.”

President Obama first attempted to lower America’s pollution by a cap-and-trade plan, Dr. Jorgenson said, but it was killed by Republicans in Congress. So the president switched to tougher enforcement of the much- amended 1963 Clean Air Act. Obama is using it to demand a 30 percent reduction in power plant emissions by 2030. (Republicans like West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are fighting this attempt to improve health.)

Economist Jorgenson hopes that next year’s Paris assembly will lay the groundwork for a global carbon tax, collected separately in each individual nation. “I think we’re going to have a big debate over this,” he said. Although the tax would apply to all fossil fuels, he said, it would hit coal hardest because coal looses much worse carbon fumes than the other fuels.

West Virginians who worry about a “war on coal” may find themselves in a bigger fight, trying to fend off the entire international community.

 

Related: Energy News Roundup: German LNG push, DiCaprio advocates carbon tax & renewables provide all new US capacity

 

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