Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tax, Don't Trade Pollution
Guest Perspective/Roy Morrison

The Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL playoffs against the Cinncinati Bengals called their trick play Fake 38 Direct Throwback. My son Sam and I call ours Chicago Lateral 2 Yellow. There's a pitch to the end who throws a lateral across the field to the quarterback who fires to the streaking end. TD.
Sometimes there's a correspondence between your backyard and the bigs, pro football or sandlot, an e-mail across town or to a friend's son serving in Iraq.
Then there are things that just aren't quite right.
A brand new pickup from Public Service Company pulls up to read the meter. If I can send e-mail and data around the world, why can't my electric meter be another smart control node of a 21st century network?
And I drive into Concord on I-89 while a huge plume of sulfurous smoke pours from the Public Service Company coal fired power plant in Bow and a brown mist heads south toward Manchester along the Merrimack River. Why are we told that the coal burned in Bow meets all environmental regulations and is a money-saving bargain as if its toxic mercury and particulate emissions and climate changing carbon dioxide are without costs?
For us to be both prosperous and healthy in the 21st century, we must get the prices right. It's time to let our market system work. It's time for poison power to charge its true costs and not have the rest of us be forced to pay its way.
By taxing polluters from the first gram of toxins and harmful emissions, we would decisively help put sustainable power on a fair and even footing with poison power. The market, not regulators, if we get the prices right, can take care of much of the pollution problem not just at Bow's Merrimack Station, but with sustainability in general.
The current regulatory system that allows a set amount of pollution without charge is fundamentally flawed. To permit "free" pollution is to pollute not only the air and water, but also the marketplace.
Poison is regulated only on the margin. Polluters only pay for exceeding their free poison allowance.
This is the basic problem behind the admirable Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative pollution cap and trade system adopted by Northeast Governors attempting to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that drive global climatic change. The governors are to be applauded for their initiative in the face of Bush administration intransigence.
Slashing carbon dioxide emissions is essential. But the modest RGGI plan, which will most strongly impact coal plants such as Merrimack Station, is already running into trouble. Massachusetts and Rhode Island have pulled out.
Some businesses worry about further increases in electric rates in a year where electric prices have soared after Hurricane Katrina. Public Service Company and other powerful polluters who want to keep operating coal plants as a "bargain" for ratepayers are less than enthusiastic.
Pollution taxes, not the sale of artificial pollution allowances ultimately are the way to solve our problems. Environmentally, if we had State sales taxes on emissions from electricity from the first gram, we would help the market send signals for sustainability. The more polluting the power, the higher the price. Buy cheap. Save the planet.
Economically, the income from the pollution taxes should all be recycled as rebates or efficiency retrofit grants to businesses and to low income people. The tax would help our businesses be competitive, protect the health of our kids, help low-income people to pay their bills, and advance prosperity and sustainability.
Pollution taxes are the way forward.
This is the concept. Next, I'll provide details.

Roy Morrison is an energy consultant and writer. His next book, forthcoming, is Eco-Civilization 2140. His Web site is www.rmaenergy.net.

1 comment:

theszak said...

Boston Finance Commission should make available its Reports on the web and the names of appointees to the Commission.