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CLIMATE SCIENCE
Senators propose first US carbon tax
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 14, 2013


GAO: Climate Change a risk for the U.S.
Washington (UPI) Feb 15, 2013 - Climate change is a high risk for the U.S. government, says the Government Accountability Office.

It is the first time that the issue of climate change has appeared on the GAO's high-risk review, which is conducted every two years to coincide with the start of a new Congress.

The report typically lists government operations considered at high risk for fraud, waste, abuse or mismanagement.

"Climate change creates significant financial risks for the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters," the report, released Thursday, states.

While the Obama administration has made "some progress" toward improved organizing across agencies, within agencies and among different levels of government, "more comprehensive and systematic" planning is needed, GAO says.

"The federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change and needs a government wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks," the report says.

Measures that GAO says are needed include more information to manage federal insurance programs' long-term financial exposure to climate change; addressing gaps in satellite data; a government-wide approach to providing data and technical assistance to state and local governments.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the addition of climate change to the High Risk List "is a huge development."

"Congress can't ignore an issue that its own auditors say is a top risk to taxpayers," Waxman said in a statement, noting that both Republicans and Democrats rely on the GAO report.

"When GAO concludes that climate change is high risk, it becomes a fiscal imperative for the federal agencies and Congress to respond," he said. "The costs of inaction on climate change will be much higher than the costs of responsible action."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that over the past two years, the nation has experienced 25 weather disasters, causing the death of 1,100 people. In 2011, there were a record 14 extreme weather and climate events in the United States costing more than $60 billion.

NOAA hasn't released an aggregate cost estimate from the disasters of 2012, as it is revising the ways it adjusts disaster losses for inflation to ensure the data are sound, The Guardian reports. Those figures are expected to be released in the middle of this year but some cost estimates for Hurricane Sandy alone have approached $100 billion.

US senators proposed a tax on carbon emissions Thursday amid growing calls for action on climate change, but the bill is expected to face strong opposition from conservatives.

Two days after President Barack Obama urged Congress to tackle the emissions blamed for rising temperatures, two senators laid out a plan that would for the first time set a price on carbon throughout the United States.

The plan by staunch environmentalists Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders would charge $20 per ton of carbon from major polluters such as coal mines and oil refineries, rising 5.6 percent annually over 10 years.

"We are looking at the danger of a planetary crisis," said Sanders, an independent from Vermont who generally votes with Obama's Democratic Party.

"When scientists tell us that the temperature of this Earth may go up at least eight degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 Celsius) by the end of this century, that means cataclysmic changes to the planet. We have got to act," he told reporters.

In hopes of shielding consumers from higher costs, 60 percent of the generated revenue would be sent back in a monthly rebate to every US resident. Much of the rest would go to improve energy efficiency at homes and promote renewable energy such as wind and solar in a bid to create jobs.

The senators, citing the Congressional Budget Office, said that the carbon fee would generate $1.2 trillion over 10 years. They said that around $300 billion would be devoted to bringing down the ballooning US debt.

Senator David Vitter, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee that will take up the bill, attacked the proposal.

"It's not just energy prices that would skyrocket from a carbon tax, the cost of nearly everything built in America would go up," he charged.

A proposal to set up a "cap-and-trade" system -- which would restrict emissions and provide a market incentive to businesses by allowing a trade in credits -- died in the Senate in 2010.

In his annual State of the Union address, Obama voiced alarm at the series of record-breaking hot years, droughts and superstorm Sandy. He vowed to take executive action on climate change if Congress does not move.

Republicans control the House of Representatives and many of them contest the view of mainstream scientists that human activity is causing temperatures to rise.

House Speaker John Boehner said that the Democratic-led Senate should take the first look at Obama's priorities, which he said "isn't the agenda that many Americans are looking for."

"If the president wants to impose a national cap-and-trade energy tax, I would hope that the Senate Democrats would take it up," Boehner said.

Boxer, who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, rejected Republican complaints about presidential action on climate change, saying that Obama was enforcing existing laws.

"I have not met an American who came up to me and said, 'senator, I really wish my water was dirtier and my air is too clean,'" she said.

Europe pioneered the cap-and-trade system but the idea of switching to a straightforward carbon tax has increasingly come into favor. Australia last year introduced a carbon tax of Aus$23 (US$23.8) per ton.

The White House said last year that it was not considering a carbon tax and Obama in his speech spoke of a market-based approach.

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