City council set to weigh in in federal ‘carbon tax’ | Local News

ByLois C

Jun 9, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Winston-Salem City Council will decide Monday whether to join leaders from more than 160 U.S. communities — including six in North Carolina — in supporting a proposed federal fee tied to the carbon dioxide content of fossil fuels.

Under the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, filed in the U.S. House in April 2021, funds collected from producers of crude oil, natural gas and coal would be divided equally among U.S. citizens and “lawful residents.”

Companies initially would be charged $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, and the rate would increase by $10 per year.

Treating carbon dioxide — the leading human-caused contributor to climate change — as a commodity, just like financial markets do with the fuels themselves, would better capture the true economic impact of greenhouse gases, said Rajesh Kapileshwari, an engineer and member of a citizens committee that recommended the city council resolution.

“The subsidized first cost of burning fossil fuels does not take into account the costs of resulting air pollution, health problems, ocean acidification, rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases, rise in global temperatures, extreme weather events due to warming of oceans, changes in precipitation leading to poorer food production, etc.,” explained Kapileshwari, a principal with Ethos Engineering who specializes in making buildings sustainable. “The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act will ratchet up the cost of consuming fossil fuels, step by step, over the years until we have a market transformation away from the bad habits.”

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‘A real hunger’

While the legislation was introduced by U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida and co-sponsored by 29 of his fellow Democrats, the idea for a so-called carbon tax has picked up support from across the political spectrum as a potentially powerful tool for slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

The pay-as-you-pollute approach has long been the preferred potential policy for Bob Inglis, a Republican who served four terms in Congress representing the Greenville-Spartanburg area in South Carolina before founding the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University.

Originally an opponent of policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions, Inglis said he had a change of heart after interactions with scientists and encouragement from his five children. While the ranking member of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, Inglis began advocating for a carbon tax.

The idea wasn’t popular with many of his party colleagues, one of whom defeated him in the 2010 Republican Primary.

But a generational shift driven by Republicans who will have to live with the effects of climate change is pushing the party to address the issue while sticking to its economic principles, Inglis insisted.

“There’s going to be a real hunger among young Republicans for answers on how we can solve this and how the free enterprise system can help drive that,” he said.

Don’t count Winston-Salem City Council member Robert Clark among Republicans backing the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, however. The longtime West Ward representative has already declared his opposition to the council resolution.

“I can assure you, particularly when it comes out of Washington, if you want to know what’s in an act, take the title and reverse it,” he said at a May 16 council meeting. “That’s how misleading things can be coming out of Washington. I’m concerned that this council would even consider voting on something when we have absolutely no idea what it is.”

‘Optimal and equitable’

While the vote likely won’t be unanimous, Kapileshwari said he’s confident the resolution will pass. The fate of the legislation itself is much less certain.

Kapileshwari is hopeful, he added, because assigning a value to emissions would help align the economy with efforts to influence climate change.

“In my line of work, the energy costs are directly proportional to the energy efficiency and energy conservation work that happens across all industries and truly across our economy,” he explained. “The higher the energy cost, the more motivated people are to save energy, purchase more fuel efficient cars (and) higher efficiency HVAC systems. It also spurs renovations of our wasteful buildings.”

But the most convincing argument for passing the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is that it would have an immediate impact, Kapileshwari insisted.

“There are dozens of ways to fight climate change (including) planting trees, adding solar panels, investing in energy efficiency, electrification of cars, sustainable land use, sustainable agriculture, eating a plant-based diet and so on,” he said. “However, (carbon) taxation is by far the easiest, fastest, optimal and equitable way of dealing with our climate crisis.”

But don’t just take his word, Kapileshwari added.

“I actually used a simulation program designed by the big brains in MIT to come to that conclusion,” he said.

NC support

North Carolina local governments that have passed resolutions supporting the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act are:

John Deem covers climate change and the environment in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina. His work is funded by a grant from the 1Earth Fund and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

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By Lois C