Taxing Carbon in Boulder

Matt Blumberg pointed me to a post about the Boulderites recent decision to raise taxes on themselves by passing a carbon tax.  The feds can’t seem to get around to doing it, so the Bouder locals just took it on themselves as an effort to fill the federal governments gap on climate policy. 

  • Dave Jilk

    You mis-use the term “our” – since you don’t live in the City of Boulder, you neither voted on the issue nor are you subject to the extra taxation. This highlights the folly of the legislation, since the costs are borne by City of Boulder residents but any potential benefits are extremely diffuse – and indeed Boulder itself will be no cleaner since most of its air quality problems come from Denver industrial emissions.

    In the event that the Federal government were to pass legislation, on the (highly suspect) theory that we can somehow affect global climate in a desirable (for whom?) way, we would still have no impact on the behavior of third world nations, who have a terrible record on emissions control generally and are growing much faster than the U.S.

    All energy production has an environmental cost. Take your pick: nuclear power has radioactive waste product that has to be stored somewhere; hydroelectric power lays waste to vast habitat regions; fossil fuels pollute the air; wind and solar power (in any volume) also destroy habitat and convert large tracts of land to eyesores; the list goes on. Taxing carbon emissions will just shift energy production to other methods – are you SURE that these methods will be better?

  • Re: “our” – you are correct – I’ve modified the post accordingly. While Amy and I often vote to raise taxes on ourselves, in this case we didn’t have the opportunity since we don’t live in the City of Boulder.

    Re: taxing carbon emissions – I have no idea if it really makes things better. It’s such an incredibly complex problem at this point. I find it to be in the “entertaining” category and I love to see how the economic dynamics play out (and think that our gov’t should get much more involved in playing here.)

    Re: environmental cost – I’m not going to go down that particular rathole – all it’ll do is attract bi-partisan flaming to this blog. However, I currently thing we should use corn-based ethanol for everything, starve all of our farm animals, and become vegetarians.

    I think I’ll stick to software.

  • The City estimates the tax will add $1M/yr in tax revenues to the City’s General Fund. In conjunction, the City will increase the budget for “energy conservation” education. Some people question the return on increasing education spending on this subject given the already hyper-aware nature of the populous in Boulder.

    Regardless, I suggest the expected $1M in tax revenue should be used to buy and retire CO2 or SO2 emissions credits –> thereby ensuring the polutant(s) will not be created. Seems like a more economically efficient approach.

  • Dave Jilk

    I’m kinda surprised here – what happened to critical thinking? You have no idea whether it makes things better, find it entertaining, and think the government should get more involved? It sounds a lot like Bush’s justification for the Iraq war.

    By the way, ethanol fuel produces just as much carbon dioxide as gasoline – it’s cleaner with respect to other emissions, but it does nothing to reduce greenhouse gases. People generally promote the use of ethanol to reduce dependence on foreign oil and domestic drilling (as well as reduction of the other pollutants) – a different liberal cause, keep them straight!

    John – I agree with your comment about “education” and would also predict that the first $200K will go to funding new city employees to administer the program and the myriad associated public processes… buying carbon credits is a decent idea, although I’d rather have them do a study on the feasibility of bulldozing that big ugly power plant in east Boulder!

  • Sarcasm alert on the feds getting involved.

    Re: Critical thinking: I’m just being lazy because I’m too busy with other things to really understand or figure out what’s best here. I just like being provocative.

    Re: Ethanol: Yeah – I know – I watch the West Wing also (sorry – I couldn’t help myself on that one.)

  • Out here in the land of SUVs (WI), we have a tax, of sorts, on gasoline. All gas in this area has to be mixed with ethanol and the cost is passed on to the users.

    This tax acts as an incentive. We can avoid it by driving smaller vehicles (no one seems to do this) or buying our gasoline outside of the area.

    My question – the Boulder tax… what is the incentive? Can Boulder residents choose another source for their power and thus avoid the tax? Do Boulder folks have multple power suppliers (besides putting up some solar units).

    It just seems like a fundraiser for the city and rather mean for folks with low income.

    I could see taxing the local utilities that use carbon-related power – that would make more sense as an incentive.

    Also, Brad, as the MIT stud that you are… I’m curious to know your feelings about nuclear power.

  • In one of my fantasy parallel universes, I actually did Course 22 (NukeE) at MIT and spent the rest of my life playing with radioactivity. I’ve always been a fan of nuclear power – on a trip in college through France I played a nice twist on the “count car game” by counting nuclear power plants. Since I’m 40 (almost 41), my childhood science fun happened after everyone realized that if a nuclear bomb hit, hiding under desks wouldn’t actually work. I got to get comfortable with the risk of the total annihilation of the planet while simultaneously getting excited about how the science worked.

  • NPR had a great story this morning about state governments suing the federal government to enforce EPA standards with respect to carbon dioxide emissions.

    As a presidential candidate in 2000, George Bush pledged to regulate carbon emissions. But once elected, he did an about-face and rejected the recommendations of even his own EPA administrator.
    Now 12 states and a coalition of environmental and public health groups have gone to court contending that they are being harmed by the EPA’s failure to act. Wednesday, on the steps of the Supreme Court, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said that his state and others are rapidly losing shoreline and gaining smog because of unchecked global warming.

    … and Dave, while we don’t know that “nucular” or other power sources will be a good trade off, we do know that at least nuclear, wind, solar, and hydrogen (where the hydrogen is generated by the prior) are not producing greenhouse gases which are leading to what most respected environmental scientists consider imminent disaster.

    In short, they buy us time.