Taxing the Planet Clean

Boxer, Sanders call for $1.2 trillion carbon tax

Clean electricity project in California / AP
• February 14, 2013 5:45 pm


Sens. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) announced they will introduce sweeping new energy regulations, including a carbon tax, during a Thursday press conference.

The proposed legislation would use a tax on carbon emissions to fund "historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass," according to a press release.

"We have the opportunity right now, with the president's commitment in the State of the Union to make major progress," Sanders said at the press conference.

President Barack Obama called for "meaningful" action on climate change in his State of the Union address Tuesday, and Boxer said her bill was in line with the president’s goals.

"The president is right—we must do more to combat climate change, and Superstorm Sandy was a wake-up call," Boxer said in a statement. "I strongly support the president’s efforts to move forward with executive actions to address this serious threat."

Sanders said the bill’s tax—$20 per ton of carbon dioxide above a set limit—would target 2,869 of the country’s biggest carbon emitters, including coalmines, oil refineries, and natural gas processing points.

The two senators’ goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the taxes would raise $1.2 trillion in revenue over the next decade. Sixty percent of the revenues generated would go toward rebates for consumers to offset costlier energy prices. The rest would fund federal subsidies for renewable energy technology.

The bill would nearly triple the funding for the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, which funds research into advanced energy technology. The projects are often considered high-risk, high-reward investments.

Boxer, the Senate Environment and Public Works chairwoman, said she plans to move the bill through her committee and to the floor by summer.

It is unlikely the bill will make it through the Senate intact, if it all. Similarly ambitious climate legislation has fared poorly in Congress.

"It’s not just energy prices that would skyrocket from a carbon tax, the cost of nearly everything built in America would go up," Sen. David Vitter (R., La.), the Environment and Public Works Committee’s top Republican, said in a Thursday statement. "Let’s not lose sight of how big of a dud cap and trade was in 2009, or as it came to be known, cap and tax. This is really no different."

And the legislation will face resistance from not only Republicans but also Democrats in red-leaning, energy-rich states. The bill would almost certainly be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House even if it did pass the Senate.

The bill would also require drilling companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking."

Boxer and Sanders were flanked by environmentalists such as Bill McKibben, founder of; Mike Brune, executive director of Sierra Club; Tara McGuiness, executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund; Tyson Slocum, Public Citizen’s energy director; and David Bradley, National Community Action Foundation executive director.