A place of many “firsts,” Oberlin now has the opportunity to become the first city in Ohio to support placing a fee on carbon emissions.
Oberlin resident John Sabin pitched the idea to city council April 2, asking for a resolution that calls on Congress to take effective action on climate change.
Sabin is the leader of the Oberlin chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on national policies to address global warming.
The nonprofit wants Congress to place a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels and increase it every year.
“Right now, we think fossil fuels are being sold at an inaccurately low price because the damage that’s being done to the natural world and to human civilization is not accounted for in that price,” Sabin said.
According to his presentation, the proposal would work like this:
• A fee would be placed on fossil fuels at the source (a mine, well, or port of entry). It would start at $15 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions and increase each year by $10.
• The net fees would be returned to American households on an equal basis, minus administrative costs. About two-thirds of all households would break even or receive more in their dividend checks than they would pay in higher prices due to the fee, protecting the middle and lower classes.
• A border tariff adjustment would be placed on goods imported from or exported to countries without an equivalent price on carbon. This adjustment would both discourage businesses from relocating to where they can emit more carbon dioxide and encourage other nations to adopt an equivalent price on carbon.
“This creates a level playing field for American business and it creates an incentive for other nations to follow suit,” Sabin said.
A study by REMI, an economic modeling firm, projects that the carbon fee and dividend would reduce carbon dioxide emissions 52 percent below 1990 levels in 20 years and that recycling the revenue creates an economic stimulus that adds 2.8 million jobs to the economy.
A structured rising price on greenhouse gas emissions would focus business planning on optimizing investment priorities to thrive in a carbon-constrained world. Additionally, the proposal is estimated to prevent more than 230,000 premature deaths in a two-decade span simply by improving air quality.
For the plan to be effective, a bill has to have bipartisan support from the get-go. Sabin said the last thing the climate lobby wants is to convince one side to pass legislation only to have the other repeal it later, as the country has seen with the Affordable Care Act.
The Climate Solutions Caucus in the House has shown that liberals and conservatives may be willing to work together on this issue. It requires one Republican for every Democrat who joins.
“We call it the Noah’s Ark rule. They have to enter two by two,” Sabin said.
In writing Oberlin’s resolution, documents from other communities that have passed similar legislation have been used as examples, said council president Bryan Burgess.
Oberlin’s own resolution could possibly be used by other Ohio communities, he said, so the item will appear on council’s agenda April 17 to allow for additional opportunity for dialogue.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.