NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The New Rochelle City Hall Council Chambers heated up Wednesday evening with an environmentally friendly discussion on the topic of carbon tax.. The event was one of three sponsored by Sustainable Westchester and its program, Westchester Power, throughout the county.
New Rochelle is a member of Sustainable Westchester, and Mayor Noam Bramson is a board member. In welcoming the participants, Bramson pointed out the linkages to programs that benefit residents as part of the municipality’s membership. This includes participation in the Westchester Power 100% renewable energy supply program, and most recently, the offer to purchase an all-electric Nissan Leaf at a significant discount, among others.
The panel discussion featured three experts who presented insights on ways in which a carbon tax might discourage the use of fossil fuels to produce energy. A carbon tax, or more precisely, a greenhouse gas tax, is one proposed way of making sure that the negative impacts of the use of fossil fuels are accounted for. Assessing such a tax reveals the advantages of renewable energy sources, thereby intended to encourage their development. The issue has gained momentum recently, in part as a result of the announced US exit from the Paris Climate Accord.
The presenters included Charles Komanoff, Founder and Director of the Carbon Tax Center, Mark Dunlea, President of the Green Education and Legal Fund, and Gaylord Holmes, head of the Westchester Chapter of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.
Dan Welsh, Director of Sustainable Westchester’s Westchester Power program, noted that while Sustainable Westchester was not advocating or lobbying for the institution of such a tax itself, the discussions are sure to include all of the elements which underpin the Sustainable Westchester mission and its programs, so they decided it appropriate to organize the forum as a public education event.
The moderator, Andrew Ratzkin, gave presenters 15 minutes to share their respective positions on the carbon tax, the role of their organizations in promoting its use, and in particular, what seemed to be the main differentiating area, the use of the proceeds from the tax
Komanoff, a former teacher at New Rochelle High School, was the first to speak. He gave an overview of energy usage trends and how a carbon tax could accelerate the increase in energy efficiency and renewable energy that is beginning to take hold in the US. Pointing to achievements in the reduction of emissions in places like China, he noted that a significant tax could escalate efforts in this area and promote a shift to renewable energy sources. Too small a tax, he asserted, would provide little incentive for major manufacturers and other generators of carbon emissions to implement initiatives aimed at reduction. The Carbon Tax Center position is that while they want to see social equity designed into any final proposal, the key is to get it done in one form or another as soon as possible.
Mark Dunlea, President of the Green Education and Legal Fund was more cautious, indicating that certain proposals being vetted at the national level were too generous in absolving large polluters of their responsibilities for greenhouse gas generation. Gaylord Holmes from the Westchester Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby felt that their strategy, which he described as “revenue neutral,” was the only way to get legislation passed, since any plan which tried to divide the revenue amongst competing uses would engender a competition for funds which would stall progress. The “revenue neutral” CCL proposal sends all generated revenue back as “dividends” to taxpayers on a strict per capita basis.
The question and answer session that followed was spirited at times, and presenters were challenged as to the question of who might bear the ultimate burden of such a tax. The three presenters did not agree at all times in their responses, but came together at the end on the basic premise – the necessity of pricing carbon to underpin efforts to fight climate change.