A Thought on a Pollution Tax

I’ve been thinking for a while about why global warming bothers me so much. You would think that as a “greenie” I would be all over this issue. Instead of proclaiming catastrophe to every new A Clean Lifer I avoid the subject. I have just found that there are so many other pressing issues. Items that are more relevant to everyday life than some future global immolation.

Which brings me to cap-n-trade. A supposed solution to global warming. I’ll just come out and say it: I don’t think its going to work. Not because we don’t need it but because its a bad idea. I like to say a square peg being pushed into a round hole. Here’s why.

The issue at hand is pollution. Companies, people, and governments are polluting (via carbon). This means all of us and we are doing it at an incredible rate. Sooner or later we all going to have to pay for our pollution. Like the smog control issues in Los Angeles, the plastic bag charge in DC, or the brownfield cleanups in New York. For years now we have already been paying for our pollution, just doing so after the fact.

pollution towers

This is where cap-n-trade comes in and attempts to solve the problem. It’s a continuation of after-the-fact, monday-morning-quarterbacking. In essence we know you are going to pollute so let’s create an artificial market so you can buy/sell your pollution “allowance”. We take it for granted that pollution has to happen? If so, we create a fake market, make allowances for pollution, allow people to sell pollution?

Yeah, when you explain it like that it does sound dumb. Even more I would venture that the only reason this solution is being bandied about is because the money from the buying/selling is supposed to go cleaning up pollution or to poorer countries.

Like I said, a dumb idea.

Instead, I suggest we invoke a pollution tax. You pollute you pay for it, upfront. I say we do away with letting companies and people pollute first then pay years later (or not at all). Let’s incorporate the costs into the activity. Like if you want to use electricity then you are going to have to pay for consulting contract to clean-up the power plant and reduce its pollution. The more electricity you use the more you pay.

Here is a perfect example. The city of Alexandria in Virginia has a contract out to clean-up their local power plant. This is to meet EPA standards, state standards, and local pollution concerns. Who do you think is paying for that $80 million dollar clean-up? It is definitely not the previous users of the electricity the plant produced. It is the future users through an increase in the cost of electricity. Basically, we have a system where you can pollute all you want and then let someone else pay to clean it up.

This bothers me deeply because my parents generation has been doing just that. They polluted the hell out of this world and are now bequeathing it to me dirty and I have to pay to clean it up. Thanks.

You may be thinking to yourself that this is impossible. There is no way we know the costs of pollution. Wrong. We know the costs of nearly every type of pollution that humans can produce. We have been cleaning up, litigating, and charging people for years now.

I just think it’s time to start realizing this and doing something about it. We have all we need to stop passing-the-buck and avoid the silliness of cap-n-trade. Problem is people don’t want to actually pay for their own pollution…

Why is that?

7 thoughts on “A Thought on a Pollution Tax”

  1. Thanks for posting your thoughts on this, and wonderful to meet you at the Gov 2.0 expo. Cap-and-trade has already proven a failure in the EU, and they have verified this by attempting to issue green bonds, effectively pushing responsibility for reduction to third world countries, India, and China. This, too, will fail.

    Just outside of DC, in MD, a local government has passed the first carbon tax in the country. There should be word on that here: http://cleancurrently.wordpress.com.

    Here is a bit of commentary I posted regarding this on Facebook:

    While it is nice to think we could all afford the rate hike one can expect when CO2 is added to the bill, the reality is many (and probably most) can not, at least in the short term.

    The working poor, in particular, would find the struggle to pay higher rates incredibly difficult to overcome. And the movement to implement a broader carbon tax … See Morewould fail if we make the mistake of uniting the poor with the rich in a campaign against a tax.

    Maybe in your county you have a number of power brokers that regulate price through competition, and perhaps you have a number of alternatives for where you can purchase power for your residence. That is not the case for many rural areas, and several urban ones as well. I'd guess it is the exception, rather than the rule.

    Factoring in the notion that most polluters and power companies consider profits over people, and you further arouse a demon to divide.

    In the long run, of course, and in consideration of capital as it relates to the bad things we all do or use, yes, we should pay the price – a price calculated beyond the economic constructs of today.

    But tomorrow, the people need protection. Make the polluters pay first; the power brokers second; the utilities third; the rich fourth; and the masses last. In such a scenario, we force conservation and direct change upon the worst, and bide a bit of time to educate the rest of us about the bitter realities of our abuse of Momma Earth.


    It is probably no coincidence that for some time now Karyn Strickler, a research scientist and host of a public access program called Climate Challenge, has been broadcasting the need for a carbon tax for some time now – and that program happens to be based in the name MD county. A number of us have made appearances on her show advocating for proactive change in this department.

    Thanks again.

    1. Hey Greg – good point about the cost of this for the poor. I mean poor people use much less of these services and so the brunt of the cost will be on the over-users. Still any increase to the poor is back breaking. Not sure what to say about this other than its a problem before the pollution tax and a problem after…almost a separate issue.

      As for a carbon tax. Do you think a tax on carbon is the right way to go, or just a tax on pollution? Especially since their is water pollution, landfill pollution, toxics in the ground, etc.

      1. What would work best, in my opinion, is initializing pollution controls via a carbon tax. We have the political capital to get it done, if not the will. Generally speaking, however, a comprehensive approach towards elimination, rather than limitation, with regard to all pollution, is what we must choose to endure. The sacrifice will be large, and the paradigm shift monumental. But I would love to see it through.

  2. Your comment that “Companies, people, and governments are polluting (via carbon).' isn't strictly true. People have chosen to measure pollution and the effects of global warming use a CO2 measurement. The problem with this measurement is that it doesn't really help us understand how pollution is produced, how to reduce it or how to reduce the very real objects that are polluting our environment (e.g. mounds of toxic waste in landfills, chemicals in food we eat, clothing we wear, pollutants that float through the air we breath). That causes problems then in accurately measuring pollution levels and reduction in pollution which may be part of the problem with cap and trade. I don't think cap and trade is a bad idea but it may be misunderstood (my initial readings on it seem to validate that). We do need a way to incentivize reducing pollution. A pollution tax would not really do that. They continue to levy taxes on driving but there really isn't a significant reduction in gas usage until prices got exorbitant like over $4/gallon. I don't have any good solutions although I will say that it is not my generation that is completely to blame for this problem. Your generation likes its play toys (created using carbon and raw materials) that often go into landfills when the next digital toy comes along and your generation likes electricity and things like that. @cheeky_geeky had a great tweet earlier today “Gotta love BP critics traveling for holidays, heating up grills, sitting in petroleum furniture. Like complaining about plane crashes.” We are equally culpable in the problem of pollution. What we need are both some big visions on how to fix with some really great action plans that attack the problem down in the weeds. And to recognize that it gets worse as new nanotechnologies create new capabilities which may have the potential to create unimaginable environmental disasters. I would say that your approach has been good. You've been thinking about action plans. But maybe you need now to add in big visions that include incentives and potentially some punishment.

  3. What would work best, in my opinion, is initializing pollution controls via a carbon tax. We have the political capital to get it done, if not the will. Generally speaking, however, a comprehensive approach towards elimination, rather than limitation, with regard to all pollution, is what we must choose to endure. The sacrifice will be large, and the paradigm shift monumental. But I would love to see it through.

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