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Carbon Tax: No Refund to the People

TRANSIT LA-Here’s some information from the Carbon Tax website: A carbon tax is a fee imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas).

More to the point: a carbon tax is the core policy for reducing and eventually eliminating the use of fossil fuels whose combustion is destabilizing and destroying our climate. 

A carbon tax is a way — the only way, really — to have users of carbon fuels pay for the climate damage caused by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If set high enough, it becomes a powerful monetary disincentive that motivates switches to clean energy across the economy, simply by making it more economically rewarding to move to non-carbon fuels and energy efficiency. 

There are opinions on how the tax should be distributed with the most popular seeming to be a refund to the people. The argument is that this rebate would help low income citizens. Again, from the website:  

Another progressive approach is to rebate the carbon tax revenues equally to all U.S. residents — a national version of the Alaska Permanent Fund, which for decades has annually sent identical checks to all state residents from earnings on investments made with the state’s North Slope oil royalties.

I am extremely worried about the rapidly increasing negative consequences of global warming from burning fossil fuels. The United Nations Climate Action Summit recently released its report on the growing threat from carbon gases. 

One way that I individually reduce my carbon footprint is to ride buses and trains in Los Angeles. Riding mass transit means one bus motor moving up to sixty people at once instead of sixty individual drivers burning gas through their sixty individual gas burning vehicles. Three car trains can carry hundreds of passengers at once. This shared riding of one vehicle greatly reduces fuel consumption and the sending of global warming carbon gases into the atmosphere.  

If the carbon tax were to reduce the amount carbon gases which trigger global warming from going into the atmosphere, I am in favor of it. However, the rebate of tax revenues to all U.S residents is too altruistic and does not take into consideration a realistic assessment of human behavior. This could lead to the opposite of reducing the burning of fossil fuels with the rebates leading to negative, and devastating consequences environmentally and socially. 

If these rebates are just distributed to U.S. citizens without direction and restrictions, the money could be spent on: 

  • Gun purchases. Guns are the greatest method of suicides. Guns kill people in households, either by accident or design. Gangs use guns to kill and destroy lives. Guns are used in school shootings. This nation suffers from too many mass shootings. What would stop the recipients of these rebates from buying a gun, or guns, and then causing death and destruction? These rebates should not be used to purchase guns. 
  • Substance abuse.This nation suffers from many abuses of alcohol and drugs and is currently going through an opioid epidemic with deaths continuing to mount. The rebates could be used for alcohol and drug purchases to aid substance abuse. This would take away funding for household spending on life’s basics, such as rent and foot. Abetting substance abuse could lead to cases of death and destruction, not the least of which is caused by those driving under the influence. 
  • Sex slave trade.The rebates could be used to continue the sex slave trade. It would be easy money that could be spent on this ongoing tragic practice. 
  • U.S. citizens could become dependent, perhaps addicted to the rebates. Once citizens start receiving this easy money, they could demand that fossil fuel production continue so the CTC rebates would continue. The CTC website lists as promoting “. . .a national version of the Alaska Permanent Fund, which for decades has annually sent identical checks to all state residents from earnings on investments made with the state’s North Slope oil royalties.  Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy is promoting reducing funding for state projects, including funding for the University of Alaska, so that money could then be used prop up the declining rebates to the people of Alaska from the dwindling Alaska Permanent Fund. Indeed, the idea of a national version of Alaska Permanent Fund could be established, with a national addiction to the rebates. 
  • Without restrictions and directed funding for the CTC rebates, what would stop U.S. citizens from using the rebates to purchase more gas burning vehicles, and then continue the burning of fossil fuels and increasing carbon gases?The rebate could be the money someone needs to finally purchase that older car or truck that is a gross polluter. People could finally purchase a low mpg motor home. They could purchase a motorboat, motorcycle and other machines with highly polluting two-cylinder engines (lawnmowers, leaf blowers, edgers) and increase their carbon footprint, rendering moot the hoped-for reductions in the creating of carbon gases from the tax. 

Perhaps this idea of an unrestricted rebate comes from the 89% of the populace who mostly drive, and not the 11% who use transit regularly. See this link to the Pew Research Center. 

I am among the 11% and would rather have the CTC taxes spent on increasing, improving, and maintaining mass transit, the trains of the nation and its wrongly maligned workhorse, the buses. 

Had these people suffered the travails of riding mass transit on a regular basis, they would see the rebate money would be wisely spent on improving transit in this nation. This would help low income citizens who are dependent upon mass transit and reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. 

If they were regular transit riders, they would: 

  • Miss a bus or train by seconds, and due to lack of funding for more buses and trains and then have to wait for what could be a long time for the next bus or train.  
  • Stand in crowded buses and trains because agencies do not have the funding to purchase new ones. 
  • Try to work around broken elevators or escalators because there is not enough funding for maintenance. 
  • Ride buses and trains past their expiration dates because there is no funding for replacements. 
  • Use multiple, time consuming transfers because there is not the funding to increase train lines and bus routes. 

The proponents may have had the right idea to tax carbon gas producing fossil fuels, but their approach to the realities of human nature and mass transit lack insight.

 

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra. He is a CityWatch contributor.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.