America vs. Australia: Carbon Tax

Policy Article 2

In July of 2012, Australian government passed a carbon tax amidst much political controversy. Across the globe, American government holds a similar interest in environmental protection. In 2013, President Barack Obama introduced the Climate Action Plan, setting goals and guidelines for environmental protection during his term. Then, in June of 2014, President Obama backed the release of the Clean Power Plan by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This plan, much like the carbon tax passed by Australia two years prior, mandates a reduction in power plant CO2 emissions. According to the White House, the Clean Power Plan is “the first-ever carbon pollution standards for existing power plants that will protect the health of our children and put our nation on the path toward a 30 percent reduction in carbon pollution from the power sector by 2030” (Climate Change). Similar to the carbon tax of Australia, the President’s Climate Action Plan spurred political controversy and unrest, in the White House and without.

The 2012 Australian carbon tax was initiated as a result of internal political pressure. The tax charged a few hundred companies A$23 ($22 US) levy per tonne of greenhouse gases they emitted. A few years later, it was repealed due to much opposition amidst politicians and citizens. Power plant greenhouse emissions account for nearly one third of all emissions in the United States, and account for the largest source of carbon emissions. To reduce the emissions in the United States, President Obama proposed a Climate Action Plan. Opposition similar to that seen in Australia arose when the President pushed his Clean Power Plan through the Environmental Protection Agency, bypassing Congress.

The Clean Power Plan proposed by the EPA “will maintain an affordable, reliable energy system, while cutting pollution and protecting our health and environment now and for future generations,” (National Geographic). The plan monitors the emissions of carbon dioxide by all power plants in all states, not allowing a rate of over 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour (Reuters). The EPA called for each state to submit an individual plan on how they would reduce CO2 emissions within their borders, called a ‘compliance plan’. In making this plan, “States can draw from a number of options, including joining or starting a cap-and-trade program, which sets limits on emissions, then allows for the purchase and sale of pollution permits; boosting their share of renewable energy in electricity generation; and tightening efficiency standards on plants and energy users” (National Geographic). Overall, the flexibility of this plan is an incentive for each state to do their part to reduce waste, improve efficiency, and reduce pollution. The EPA and Obama expect the Clean Power Plan to cut emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels, as well as cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide by 25 percent in 2030. The act protects public health and boasts to reduce electricity costs for individual citizens by 8 percent.

Opposition to the Clean Power Plan came from many sides, including the US Chamber of Commerce and the Senator of Kentucky, Mitch McConnell. The Chamber of Commerce argued that the new plan will reduce jobs for American citizens, drive up prices of electricity, and stunt power plants across the nation. Mr. McConnell’s opposition is much more driven, as Kentucky is one of the nation’s largest coal producers. The Kentucky Senator toured courtrooms across the country, appealing to any who would listen against Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions. According to the New York Times, he “frequently declared that he would do everything in his power to battle what he calls Mr. Obama’s ‘war on coal’”. In doing so, he enlisted the help of a Laurence H. Tribe, who declared the climate change regulations unconstitutional. Mr. Tribe “argued that in requiring states to cut carbon emissions, and thus to change their energy supply from fossil fuels to renewable sources, the [EPA] is asserting executive power far beyond its lawful authority” (New York Times). In addition to undermining Obama within US borders, McConnell attempted to spread disbelief internationally as well, to impact Obama’s global climate change treaties. In contrast to the opposition spread by some, many states sprang to support the Power Plan, including Michigan, Mississippi, and Utah. Environmental supporter Al Gore spoke at Princeton University calling the Power Plan the ‘moral authority’ on climate (National Geographic).

An extension of the Clean Power Plan is the construction of a large-scale power plant in Kemper, Alabama, which is designed to transform coal into gas, then capture the carbon dioxide and pump it underground to solidify. This process is known as carbon dioxide sequestration (CSS), and is both touted as miraculous and doubted as a myth. The Kemper power plant is the only large power plant being built in the United States. It’s success or failure will either strengthen or cripple Obama’s Clean Power Plan justification. As the leader in clean coal technology, there is a lot of controversy trickling down from government to the development of the power plant, as it is funded by the US Department of Energy.

The carbon tax in Australia was a political agenda allowing for the election and deposition of two Prime Ministers. Controversy surrounding Obama’s Clean Power Plan undermines his authority as President and America’s reputation in environmental protection. If the execution of CSS in the Kemper power plant is successful, America and its government will have made huge strides in environmental protection. However, if the Kemper plant fails to uphold the standards the EPA set with the Power Plan, Obama’s Climate Action Plan will be severely hampered and America will fall behind in the pollution reduction goals set.

Works Cited

Bump, P. (2014, July 19). Australia’s Decision to Dump it’s Carbon Tax Reveals More about Politics than the Environment. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/07/19/australias-decision-to-dump-its-carbon-tax-reveals-more-about-politics-than-the-environment/

Climate Change and President Obama’s Action Plan. The White House. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change#section-cutting-carbon-pollution

Coral, D. (2015, March 19). McConnell Urges States to Help Thwart Obama’s ‘War on Coal’. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/20/us/politics/mitch-mcconnell-urges-states-to-help-thwart-obamas-war-on-coal.html?_r=0

Drajem, M. (2014, April 13). Coal’s Best Hope Rising With Costliest U.S. Power Plant. Bloomberg Business. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-04-14/coal-s-best-hope-rising-with-costliest-u-s-power-plant

EPA Launches Controversial ‘Clean power Plan’. (2014, June 2). CBS DC. Retrieved from http://washington.cbslocal.com/2014/06/02/epa-launches-controversial-clean-power-plan/

Howard, B.C. (2014). Obama Calls for 30 Percent Reduction in Power Plant Emissions. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/06/140602-power-plant-rules-climate-change-plan/

McCarthy, G. (2014, June 2). Our Clean Plan Will Spur Innovation and Strengthen the Economy. EPA Connect. Retrieved from http://blog.epa.gov/epaconnect/2014/06/our-clean-power-plan-will-spur-innovation-and-strengthen-the-economy/

Overview of the Clean Power Plan. EPA Facts Sheet. Retrieved from http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-05/documents/20140602fs-overview.pdf

Volcovici, V. (2013, September 20). Analysis: U.S. Industry sees Carbon Capture as Legal Chink in EPA Rules. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/20/us-usa-energy-emissions-analysis-idUSBRE98J0Q620130920

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