Citizens group to pitch carbon tax to council

A citizens group is calling for the Langley City Council to endorse a national policy that could lead to a tax on carbon production.

The Whidbey Island Chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, or CCL, is making a presentation before the council 5:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18 at City Hall, where it will outline the reasoning for the proposal and how Langley fits into the picture.

Carbon dioxide, which enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil, is the primary greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.

The CCL’s Carbon Fee and Dividend Proposal aims to place a “steadily rising fee” on carbon products to “account for the cost of burning fossil fuels,” according to the group’s website. Large corporations such as Shell would cough up an initial fee of $15 per ton on the CO2 equivalent emissions of fossil fuels, increasing by $10 per year.

All fees would be collected and returned to taxpayers as a “monthly energy dividend.”

The system could reduce carbon emissions to 50 percent of levels from 1990 while adding 2.8 million jobs to the American economy, according to a 2013 study on a revenue-neutral carbon price by Regional Economic Models, Inc.

The proposal is taking hold with lawmakers; 62 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have joined a Climate Solutions caucus. The Climate Change Lobby has 457 chapters nationwide, and each of them is being tasked with advocating for its local municipalities to endorse the carbon tax initiative to bolster their cause. Eighty-four cities have already done so and Dean Enell, a member of Whidbey Island’s Chapter, believes Langley should become the 85th.

“To sway public opinion, it’s helpful to get as many endorsements as we can from all levels of government,” Enell said.

Enell said that while a carbon tax would lead to more expensive prices at the pump, the costs would be offset by the monthly energy dividend. Enell also added that the CCL is working to make it a bi-partisan issue; for every Democrat or Republican that signs onto the caucus, he or she must be joined by a member of the opposite political party.

An initial proposal for endorsement was submitted to the city council for its consideration at a Dec. 4 meeting, but it was tabled; the council motioned for the group to make a presentation on Dec. 18 so it could learn more.

Mayor Tim Callison mentioned at the meeting that the city has not typically commented on items outside of issues that would directly affect Langley. Callison said it’s not about a lack of importance, but rather potential contention.

Callison said the city’s been previously asked to weigh in on a coal train passing through Everett, for example. He also said that by endorsing one group, it invites the possibility of more coming in and chewing up the council’s time.

“Many of the requests are for issues that are not directly affecting Langley and therefore would not be a good use of our limited time and resources,” Callison wrote in an email Monday afternoon.

“Often the issues are of a contentious nature and it would be difficult for the city council and mayor to know what side of an issue best represents the views of the citizens of Langley.”

Langley resident John Goertzel, another member of the Whidbey Island Chapter, countered that the policy would result in a reduction of greenhouse gases that could trickle down and have a positive impact on Langley. He commended the city for its focus of being environmentally friendly in its recent comprehensive plan update but said that endorsing the policy has equal importance.

“If the overlying worldwide situations needs to be addressed successfully, it needs to be done on a worldwide basis,” Goertzel said. “…It’s clear to us that Langley and its citizens have a stake in sound policy in this regard.”

Three members of the council contacted by The Record, Christy Korrow, Thomas Gill and Dominique Emerson, said they are waiting until the presentation to announce whether or not they’ll vote to endorse the proposal.

Korrow, who recently joined the council after winning the election over Burt Beusch, expressed hesitancy at signing resolutions that are geared toward specific policies.

“I certainly think that climate change and addressing climate change is a top priority for individuals and for cities, and at a national level,” Korrow said. “To me, it’s an extremely important issue.”

“I want to hear their presentation first,” she added.

Emerson echoed Korrow’s sentiments by saying climate change is an issue that the city should take into consideration for every project it does.

Emerson said that, while the city’s historical stance has merit, an issue like climate change could overrule it. Emerson concluded by saying she wants to hear if there are any concerns by staff or the mayor before taking a position.

“Of course I’d like to see Langley be part of it, but I’d also like to hear the voice of caution and really understand what the ramifications could be in doing this,” Emerson said.

Gill said he’s intrigued by the idea, but is unsure of it will actually reduce CO2 emissions. He also said the city shouldn’t necessarily make endorsements for nationwide policies.

“I’m not sure if the city proper should make an endorsement of anything like this,” Gill said.

The Whidbey Island Chapter is about 25 members strong. It meets at 10 a.m. the second Saturday of every month at the Pacific Rim Institute in Coupeville.

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