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Driving a Stake Through the Heart of State Carbon Taxes

May 18, 2018

Climate Change Weekly #286

Like hapless humans in thrall to vampires in a horror film, misguided legislators in a number of states keep bringing carbon tax proposals back from the dead, threatening to prey on the poor and businesses in their states.

During the most recent legislative session, state legislators in Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Washington[SK1] offered various proposals to tax carbon dioxide emissions.

Washington state legislators’ proposal would have imposed a tax of $12 per metric ton of carbon emissions on the sale or use of fossil fuels such as gasoline and natural gas beginning in 2019. In 2021 the carbon tax would have started increasing by $1.80 per ton annually until it reached $30.00 per metric ton.

After counting the votes, the Senate sponsors concluded the carbon tax couldn’t pass and withdrew it from consideration. This should surprise no one, with all previous efforts to impose a carbon tax in the state having stalled. When Republicans controlled the legislature, they refused to consider Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposals for a carbon dioxide tax. Inslee tried to impose a carbon dioxide tax administratively in 2017 by directing the state’s Department of Ecology (DOE) to enact a Clean Air Rule requiring large industrial carbon dioxide emitters to pay a fee for their emissions, only to have a Superior Court judge strike the rule down on December 15, 2017, saying DOE lacked authority to impose the fee without legislative approval. In addition, Washington voters rejected a ballot measure to impose a carbon tax in 2016. As I noted in a recent Washington Examiner op-ed, anti-progress environmentalists are gathering signatures in an attempt to put another carbon tax initiative on Washington’s ballot despite their repeated failures.

Connecticut’s carbon tax proposal, which also failed, would have taxed “any petroleum derivative that is commonly burned to produce heat, electricity or motion or that is commonly processed to produce synthetic gas for burning, including, but not limited to, propane, gasoline, unleaded gasoline, kerosene, heating oil, diesel fuel, kerosene-based jet fuel and number 4 oil, number 5 oil and residual oil for utility and nonutility uses,” based on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions their use produces.

The tax would have begun at $15 per ton in 2020, increasing by $5 per ton each subsequent year, indefinitely. Connecticut’s tax would have taken effect only if Massachusetts and Rhode Island also passed carbon taxes of their own of at least $10 per ton.

Hawaii’s legislature considered a carbon tax that would have started at $10 per ton in 2019, increasing by $5 per ton every year until reaching $40 per ton in 2025. Utah’s carbon tax would have begun at $10 per ton in 2020, increasing by 3.5 percent each year until it reached $100 per ton. Hawaii’s and Utah’s carbon tax proposals also failed.

I would like to think The Heartland Institute’s efforts are helping to keep state carbon taxes at bay. For instance, Tim Benson, a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, wrote separate Research and Commentary (R&C) policy documents analyzing and critiquing the carbon tax proposals in each of the nine states considering them. Heartland’s government relations department delivered these reports to every state legislator in those states.

Benson’s papers delivered a consistent message: Carbon taxes hurt the poor.

“Carbon taxes are extremely regressive because low-income families spend proportionally more on energy than higher-income families,” Benson told Environment & Climate News. “Carbon taxes, like every energy tax, hit poorer families especially hard, which is why nearly every carbon tax bill introduced contains some form of rebate or tax credit for residents in general or low-income households in particular.

On February 28, less than a month after Washington state lawmakers received Benson’s R&C highlighting the high costs and nonexistent benefits from its proposed carbon tax, the Senate sponsors of the bill withdrew it from consideration. In addition, less than a week after Heartland mailed Benson’s analysis of Maryland’s proposed carbon tax to its state lawmakers, the state’s House Economic Matters Committee voted it down on March 15.

Benson’s R&C on Hawaii’s proposed carbon tax was sent to 76 state lawmakers on March 12, just before it was withdrawn from consideration. Benson wrote, “At 23.87 cents per kilowatt hour, Hawaii currently has by far the highest retail electricity prices in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. [T]he Tax Foundation already ranks Hawaii’s tax climate in the bottom half of the country. A carbon-dioxide tax would make everything more expensive for working families in Hawaii, who are already pinched by the state’s high costs.”

Experience shows wherever a carbon tax rears its ugly head, The Heartland Institute will be there to fight the evil, like Van Helsing defeating Dracula.

— H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: Environment & Climate News; The Heartland Institute; The Heartland Institute; The Heartland Institute; The Washington Examiner


China calls for renegotiating Paris agreement … Wildfire reduction improves carbon uptake … Shutting nuclear plants would make world less likely to attain carbon goals … Satellite records throw cold water on extreme warming claims


Two weeks of negotiations among the parties to the 2015 Paris climate agreement failed to produce a draft negotiating text detailing steps to be taken to satisfy each country’s carbon reduction goals. Negotiations failed as developing countries demanded clarity about when developed countries will begin delivering the $100 billion annually in green development and climate mitigation aid promised as part of the Paris agreement and the Green Climate Fund, and as developed countries called for developing countries to commit to greater transparency concerning the emissions they produce, opening themselves up to some kind of tracking and verification process.

Ongoing shortfalls in Green Climate Fund commitments gave China an opening at the Bonn meetings to call for a renegotiation of the shared commitment between developed and developing countries to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Chinese negotiators suggested aid should be delivered before any confirmable emission reductions are made by developing countries.

Representatives from almost 200 nations began leaving Bonn, Germany on May 9 without producing a draft negotiating text for government ministers to discuss at the annual meeting this year to be held in Poland in December. As a result, they set another round of interim negotiations in Bangkok before the end-of-year conference. The BBC speculates the Paris climate agreement will unravel if negotiators cannot develop a consensus on accounting rules, technology transfers, and methods to verify the greenhouse gas emission reductions are on track.

SOURCES: BBC; National Post


A new study in Nature Communications shows the active suppression of wildfires and the reduction in slash-and-burn agriculture with the introduction of modern high-yield framing has substantially increased the amount of carbon dioxide terrestrial plants remove from the atmosphere since the 1930s.

Scientists estimate plants currently absorb approximately 30 percent of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Examining the historic charcoal record and recent satellite observations since the 1930s, this study finds as population has grown and population density has increased, active firefighting efforts and modern agricultural techniques have reduced deforestation, expanding forests.

Leaving aside the increased carbon dioxide uptake from the fertilization effect—the greening of the Earth directly due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide—this study calculates the reduction in global wildfires has enhanced the terrestrial carbon dioxide uptake by as much as 19 percent between 1960 and 2009. This is one more complicating factor climate models should but do not account for.

SOURCE: Nature Communications


Analysts at the left-of-center think tank Third Way recently released a report saying those concerned about climate change should also be concerned about the pending closure of many nuclear plants across the United States. Third Way estimates nuclear facilities in the United States generated as much zero-carbon electricity as all the wind turbines on the planet combined in 2015, yet half the country’s nuclear fleet could soon go offline, the equivalent of losing half of the wind-generated electricity in the world.

To fight climate change, environmentalists should support nuclear power plants operating beyond their presumed 60 year lifespan, Third Way argues. Instead, with the support of many environmental groups, six nuclear reactors closed since 2013 alone and approximately 20 percent of the nation’s nuclear fleet is currently scheduled for early retirement. Other research estimates an even greater number of closures.

Third Way says nuclear plants are baseload power plants not easily replaced by intermittent renewable sources. Instead, they will likely be replaced by natural gas plants. In addition, it is generally politically easier and cheaper to keep existing nuclear power plants open than building sufficient renewable power sources to replace them. From a greenhouse gas reduction perspective, each nuclear plant closure delays the date humanity can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, much less reach the zero-carbon-emissions-from-electricity goal Third Way advocates, the report states.

SOURCES: Third Way; Axios


New research from scientists at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) Earth System Science Center shows Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) temperature assessments and projections, and temperature trends reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “contain spurious warming” dramatically overstating the amount of warming the earth has experienced since 1979, when multiple satellites first began measuring global temperatures.

Comparing satellite and weather balloon datasets adjusted for localized, non-homogeneous climatic factors and conditions shows IPCC overestimates the earth’s warming since 1979 by more than a factor of two, more than 200 percent. According to the paper, the actual tropical mid-latitude (20°S and 20°N) warming trend since 1979 is +0.10 ± 0.03 degrees Celsius per decade, compared to an average of +0.27 degrees Celsius per decade in IPCC climate model simulations. Records for other latitudes show similar discrepancies.

Satellite datasets show a general warming trend from 1990 to 2000, a cooling trend through at least 2006, and a relative flattening thereafter. The amount differs among the four satellite datasets, with the UAH indicating the least amount of warming during the first period and the largest relative cooling in the second period. When compared to homogenized weather balloon data sets for the 1990 to 2000 period, UAH’s data set is the one that most closely corresponds to the temperatures recorded by weather balloons, providing “substantial evidence that the [non-UAH] satellite time series are characterized by spurious warming in the 1990s.”

The IPCC dramatically overstates the warming recorded by satellite datasets, which the authors attribute to the fact climate models misrepresent “the basic … physics of the tropical hydrologic cycle (i.e. water vapor, precipitation physics, and cloud feedbacks).”

SOURCE: International Journal of Remote Sensing

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.