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Tufts Econ Prof Develops Carbon Emissions Legislation

This story was written by Alexandra Bogus, Tufts Daily
A carbon emissions bill inspired by Tufts Economics Professor Gilbert Metcalf may reach the floor of Congress this fall as part of a national initiative to counteract the mounting effects of greenhouse gases.

Metcalf, who specializes in environmental tax policy, designed his proposal to protect the environment while at the same time taking the burden off taxpayers.

Entitled America's Energy Security Trust Fund Act, it is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill would impose a tax of $15 per ton on carbon dioxide emissions. The revenue from that tax would then be redistributed to households in the form of an income tax credit.

His proposal comes as at a time when efforts to reduce emissions have gotten support from key legislators, including Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Metcalf is confident his proposal would ensure that the tax only affects fossil fuel producers and not the general public. As such, he said that households will not have to pay any new taxes.

Despite this, Economics Professor Daniel Richards anticipates the public will have a negative reaction to the bill.

"I don't think the public is sympathetic to any kind of new tax," he said. "There's a crowd that believes that [the tax rebate] won't happen."

Anja Kollmuss, the outreach coordinator for the Tufts Climate Initiative, agreed. Carbon taxes have not been popular in the past "because they have the word tax in it," she said.

The United States emitted six billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration. Metcalf estimates that his bill would reduce emissions by about 12 percent and raise over $80 billion in revenue to be redistributed to the public.

But the carbon tax is not without problems.

Metcalf anticipates an increase of 13 cents per gallon in the price of gasoline at the pump, a 14.1 percent increase in electricity and natural gas prices, and a 10.9 percent increase in home-heating prices, according to a policy brief he wrote for the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank.

Without the credit system, a pollution tax of this sort would disproportionately affect poor households. But the rebates make the legislation more neutral.

"That's important because most taxes on energy are regressive," Metcalf said.

His proposed credits are based on household income. A family earning a salary of $20,000 a year would be awarded two-percent of its income as a tax credit. Higher-income families, who will be less affected by the price increases, will get credits of less than one percent of their incomes.

It still remains to be seen whether the bill will able to glean enough congressional backing to pass, but some are skeptical of its odds.

Political Science Professor Kent Portney said that while the legislation makes sense from a rational standpoint, it has "no chance" of making it through Congress.

He said that in order to get a carbon tax passed, the country needs an administration that is willing to push harder on energy.

Metcalf agreed.

"It's a major initiative with huge ramifications," he said.

But Kollmuss said it may be a necessary one, since she feels that some sort of governmental action is needed.

"We clearly need very strong legislation," she said.

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