Pitkin County adds its support for national carbon fee
The Pitkin County commissioners passed a resolution Wednesday urging U.S. Congress to approve a carbon fee, but only after Commissioner Michael Owsley sparked a spirited discussion about the best way to address climate change.
The board voted 3-1 to support an initiative by the nonprofit group Citizens’ Climate Lobby for a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend system that would be levied on fossil fuels at the point of production. The idea is that the fee would motivate energy consumers to conserve and adopt renewable energy rather than pay higher prices for fossil fuels. The lobby is touting its system as a way to coax change without extensive government regulation or subsidies.
Owsley said he understands the consequences of climate change and believes humans must do something to curb their production of greenhouse gases. However, he questioned if a carbon tax is an effective way to do it.
Fossil-fuel use can be considered an addiction, he said, and studies show that making the source of the addiction more expensive isn’t successful.
“People will pay any price for something they’re addicted to. It doesn’t matter,” Owsley said.
He said the initiative by Citizens’ Climate Lobby is “well-intentioned” but stands little chance of being successful. In addition, Owsley was skeptical that the money collected by the federal government via a carbon fee would actually be plowed back into market incentives for fossil-fuel reduction, such as electric cars, mass transportation and energy-efficient building design.
“How often does the federal government return money? It just doesn’t work,” Owsley said.
But the other three commissioners at the work session rushed to defend the program. Commissioner Patti Clapper called it “a good first step.”
Commissioner George Newman said it is important to get the federal government to acknowledge climate change is a serious issue.
“At some point, we’re going to have to make a shift to renewables,” Newman said.
Commissioner Chairman Steve Child said the U.S. is hooked on fossil fuels in large part because its production is subsidized through tax breaks or low-lease fees for federal lands. Americans pay lower prices at the gas pumps than motorists in Europe, but the U.S prices don’t take into account the subsidies provided to the oil industry, he said. Applying the carbon fee levels the playing field.
The county’s resolution says, “Climate scientists worldwide are in near-unanimous agreement that Earth’s atmosphere is warming to a degree perilous to global ecosystems, numerous species and the future of human civilization.”
On the local level, “global climate change will affect Pitkin County by reducing snowpack and changing water cycles which threatens the county’s tourism economy and public safety through increased risk of wildfire and landslides,” the resolution said. It cited a study by the Aspen Global Climate Change Institute.
Child claimed that global warming could eliminate downhill skiing in Aspen in 50 years.
“This is really the biggest threat that we’re facing in the U.S. today,” Child said.
The approved resolution concludes by saying, “Pitkin County strongly requests that the U.S. Congress act with urgency to pass legislation that levies an annually increasing revenue-neutral fee and dividend on fossil fuels as proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby. The fee and dividend should be sufficient to: 1) Provide an economic inventive for individuals and corporations to produce and use less fossil fuels; and 2) make the transition from fossil fuels financially feasible to citizens by returning the fees collected in an equitable fashion to consumers.”
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