Condemning carbon trading as “fraught with uncertainties, lack[ing] transparency and creat[ing] large opportunities for emitting facilities to engage in fraud,” a national coalition of environmental justice organizations has called for a federal carbon tax to address “the most critical issue of our time” — the climate crisis.

Good Jobs, Clean Air
Photo: Brooke Anderson.

The June 2 statement from the Climate Justice Leadership Forum is the latest sign of mounting disaffection with the top-down push for carbon cap-and-trade. It is particularly significant because the 28 signatory organizations, which span the country from Anchorage to New Orleans and from Oakland to New York City, have been the spearhead of a rising movement by communities of color to crack open the historically affluent and white U.S. environmental lobby, much of which has backed the cap-and-trade approach to pricing carbon emissions.

Moreover, CJLF’s endorsement of “an equitable carbon tax” serves notice that lower-income and “minority” constituencies are concluding that the disproportionate impacts of carbon taxes and other user fees can (and must) be reversed through progressive use of the carbon tax revenues.

CJLF’s statement declares (all emphases added):

An equitable carbon tax must be set high enough to encourage emissions sources to make financial investment in technological controls and energy efficiency, and to begin researching and developing clean, renewable energy options.

A carbon tax cannot remain static and should not merely track inflation, but should rise over time so that resource conservation and development of clean renewable energy can continue to be an attractive alternative to fossil fuel use.

The Climate Justice Leadership Forum’s strong endorsement of a carbon tax over cap-and-trade is welcome news at the Carbon Tax Center, which I co-direct, even though our positions diverge on the important question of revenue treatment. The Carbon Tax Center wants 100% of carbon tax revenues to be returned to Americans via either tax-shifting or regular “dividends” to safeguard less affluent families who, on average, consume less energy than the wealthy. The Leadership Forum urges:

Program revenue from a carbon tax should be used to fund programs designed to wean the economy off fossil fuel; should provide assistance for vulnerable workers and communities working to transition to the new economy; should include subsidies for energy efficiency that prioritize low-income communities and communities of color, particularly those living in vulnerable areas (coastal zones, floodplains, arctics, urban areas).

CTC strongly supports such efforts but wants them funded from general revenues to avoid the horse-trading that could otherwise “raid” the carbon tax revenues and reduce dividends available to families. Still, this tactical difference pales beside our shared perspective on the importance of enacting carbon taxes instead of carbon cap-and-trade.

CJLF’s critique of carbon cap-and-trading says, in part:

A cap and trade system creates a volatile market that does not create business incentives to invest in new technologies because prices of emissions credits could be less than the price of new technologies. A cap and trade system makes economic planning difficult because the market price, lacking regulation, is not consistent and is difficult for businesses to predict.

CJLF’s supports of carbon taxing is equally unequivocal:

A carbon tax carbon reduction system has been found by scientists, economists, policymakers and regulatory analysts to be the most efficient means to reduce carbon emissions.A carbon tax can insure predictability and create immediate incentives for emitters to invest in new cleaning technology for polluting facilities.

Signatories to the CJLF statement are listed below (as of June 1, 2008). The coalition’s statement should be seen as both a milestone in climate advocacy and further indication that support for carbon pricing is slipping away from cap-and-trade and moving toward carbon taxing.

Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Anchorage AK
Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation, Albany, NY
Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland, CA
California Environmental Rights Alliance, Los Angeles, CA
Clark Atlanta University Environmental Justice Resource Center, Atlanta, GA
Communities for a Better Environment, Los Angeles, CA
Community Coalition for Environmental Justice, Seattle, WA
Community In-power and Development Association, Port Arthur, TX
Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, Hartford, CT
Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University, New Orleans, LA
Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, Detroit, MI
Environmental Justice Action Group, Buffalo, NY
Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative, Oakland, CA
Environmental Research Foundation, New Brunswick, NJ
For a Better Bronx, Bronx, NY
Harambee House Inc., Savannah, GA
Indigenous Environmental Network, Bemidji, MN
Jesus Peoples Against Pollution, Jackson, MS
Just Transition Alliance, San Diego, CA
Land Loss Prevention Project, Durham, NC
National Black Environmental Justice Network, Washington, D.C.
National Community Revitalization Alliance, Washington, D.C.
New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, Trenton, NJ
New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, New York, NY
People Organizing to Demand Economic & Environmental Rights (PODER), San Francisco, CA
Southwest Network for Economic and Environmental Justice, Albuquerque, NM
United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park (UPROSE), Brooklyn, NY
WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Harlem, NY