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Feinstein Plans New "Carbon Fee" Bill, Argues Against Keystone, Oil & Gas Subsidies

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Senator Dianne Feinstein shared her plans with Fresh Dialogues to introduce a new "carbon fee" bill, during a press conference Wednesday in downtown San Francisco.

"I think a carbon fee is growing in popularity," said Feinstein, after an appearance at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club. Her plans follow President Obama's SOTU call for "market based solutions to climate change," and a growing consensus among experts in favor of using the taxation system to control carbon dioxide emissions.

She referred to her colleague Senator Barbara Boxer's recent bill (co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders), which proposed a "carbon fee and dividend scheme" that would tax carbon emitters, such as coalmines, at the source. Here's the rationale:

By increasing the price of fossil fuel in the market...
It levels the playing field between carbon-based fuels and renewable fuels, such as wind and solar, making renewables more competitive and attractive to consumers and investors.
A portion of the "dividend" (the carbon "fee" proceeds) would be refunded to US residents.

Similar schemes have been implemented in British Columbia, Sweden and Ireland with some success. The aim is to encourage consumers to see the true cost of their energy choices. The fee represents some of the externalities of choosing fossil fuel, such as particulate pollution and greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.

Feinstein's proposal was short on details, but she confirmed, "It's my intention to introduce a fee of $10 a ton and we'll see what happens to it."

The Boxer-Sanders proposal is for a tax (or "fee") of $20 per ton of carbon. Presumably Feinstein feels it'll be more palatable to start at a lower level and gradually phase in a higher tax over several years.

Feinstein acknowledged that with other issues stealing center stage (notably saber-rattling in North Korea and the ongoing domestic gun control debate), climate change is not currently on the government's "high priority list," so it's hard to predict what progress the government will achieve.

Nevertheless, Feinstein was vocal on the topic of climate change and bullish about renewable energy during an earlier interview, Wednesday, with the Commonwealth Club's Greg Dalton:

On the threat of Climate Change

"People don't really understand. They think the earth is immutable. They think we can't destroy it, that it's here to stay. It's not so... As we fill the atmosphere with pollutants: methane, carbon dioxide, other things...it warms the earth. And it begins with animal habitat disappearing, the ocean beginning to rise, more violent hurricanes, tornadoes...drought is more prevalent."

"What's going to be the ultimate change is weather. People see weather, they see the devastation and so eventually people are going to come around to support restrictions on carbon dioxide, maybe a fee on the use of carbon to replace our deficit, our debt. A $20 fee (per ton of carbon or methane equivalent) is like $1.2 Trillion in revenue over 10 years. If you just take half that: $600 Billion."

"I wouldn't say there's much (support in the Senate) but I would say this: people are coming to realize now... climate change is getting worse. Actually since 2008, 'good energy' has doubled. Electric cars are being more prevalent, hybrids are being more prevalent. People are saving money. Good things are happening. The question is: can we really bite the bullet and make the decision that we're going to save the planet?"

On the Keystone Pipeline

"I'm told the area in Alberta (Canada) is bigger than the state of Florida, I'm told it's a forested area which they mow down and begin to dig the huge giant lakes which they pour chemicals in to produce this form of tar sands oil. The earth is defaced forever."

"Now we have to make up our minds: do we want to deface large portions of our earth forever? I don't think so because we're making progress on clean energy and that ought to really be where we go."

"Some people say if the pipeline isn't built north-south through the center of our country, they're only going to do it east to west and send it to China. That's not a good argument."

Feinstein urged the audience to read the latest article on Alberta's tar sands from National Geographic. By the looks of a Keystone protest at a President Obama event Wednesday evening, many in San Francisco already have.

Read more about Feinstein's remarks at Fresh Dialogues
On ending subsidies to oil and gas companies
On why California's Monterey shale reserves are "irrelevant"
On her call for a California water bond to increase storage for drought conditions
On the Tesla Model S