Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The Carbon Tax That Pays You

Kurt Holtz

A recent study found Americans loathe the word tax.  But what if there were a tax that actually pays dividends to people?

That’s the idea behind the new and improved Carbon Pricing Bill that supporters hope will become law.

 Ingrid Mans is a co-founder of the New River Valley Chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. “Citizens all around the world are lobbying their federal governments to put a meaningful price on carbon,” she says the goal is to “put a halt on emissions and return all of the revenue, equally and fully, out to the people.”


CCL is working to get a carbon pricing bill --OK, let’s call it what it is, a Carbon Tax Bill, --passed by Congress.  But this tax would be paid to you.  It would put a price on carbon, starting at about $15 a ton and increase gradually every year. “And then all that money is returned back to households equally divided, so that the regular folks aren't harmed by the rising cost of living, typically associated with their carbon tax” says Mans.

CCL has created a carbon calculator anyone can use, “where people can enter their zip code, what kind of electricity they use, and you know, household size. And it would predict for you what your impact would be on the first year of this carbon fee and dividend. So, it would estimate what your rise in costs would be compared with what your dividend check.” 


Mans did the math and she found two thirds of households either break even or come out ahead with a carbon tax.  The lower your income, the higher your carbon tax return, and vice versa. … because higher income often also means, larger carbon footprint, --- bigger houses, more cars, -- so the less carbon you create the more money you get.

Peter Greider is a business consultant in Blacksburg.

“This is a part of what we're trying to do in terms of making it politically viable, to make it so we don't end up with a yellow vest movement like in France where people freaked out about the gas tax.”   Grieger points out that, “in this case, we want people to know that every month they're going to get a check just deposited into their account. That's the carbon dividend from that carbon fee.”

Here’s how it would work: “The fee is charged at the wellhead or the mine. So, it's where carbon enters the economy. The idea is, that everything that's related to carbon will be more expensive and a little bit more each year. But the dividend will go up each year with that. And that expense, that pricing will affect innovation and conservation.”


Those innovations could benefit everyone say supporters, but perhaps only if everyone gets involved.

Alaina Coppa is a user experience designer and the other co-founder of the New River Valley Chapter of CCL. She says, “We know that this policy is the best first step. But we also know it’s not perfect. It’s not going to solve all the impacts of climate change and I hope that, as a country, we will find a way to take that first step and not get stuck in a debate over perfectionism”


And it may be that the political planets are aligning on the idea of carbon pricing. It’s caught the attention not only of democrats but also republicans.  One recent poll found more than half of Republicans support a carbon fee and for under forty GOP supporters, it’s 75 percent.


Again, Peter Greider, “The focus is on bipartisanship. We have to get everybody on board with this because we're all in the same boat with climate anyway, and it has to be bipartisan so that the bill will stick. This law can't be something we have for two years, ends up in the courts battling it out and never gets implemented. We have to have everybody in agreement that this is what we're going to do. We're working with Republicans, Democrats, everybody in between to try to get support on something that's going to help everybody. 

The energy, innovation and carbon dividend act of 2019 has now been referred to three different house committees for review its supporters. Hope to see a companion bill introduced in the Senate in Blacksburg. I'm Robbie Harris.

 Take this quiz on ways to test your understanding of climate change. And here is your Carbon Tax Dividend Calculator.