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Time for Big Oil to Pay for Its Pollution

The fossil fuel industry is the only industry that doesn’t pay to clean up its own waste.

(Image via Shutterstock)

We need a carbon tax, and we need it now.

During his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, President Obama talked a lot about climate change, and how important it is that we stop using 19th century energy forms and start using 21st century sources of energy.

The President said that, “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.”

He went on to say that, “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

President Obama specifically addressed carbon pollution, saying that he had directed his administration to start working more with states to set new standards for the levels of carbon pollution that can be pumped into our skies.

While that’s a good start, we need to be taking more definitive steps to curb carbon pollution associated with burning fossil fuels that causes a whole bunch of problems in addition to climate change.

When fossil-fuel based carbon pollution first became a talking point, we learned about how bad the health effects of air pollution were.

Then, we learned about the health ailments it can cause, things like lung cancer and asthma and heart disease.

And most recently, we learned that carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels is drastically altering our environment, driving global warming, and contributing to more severe weather across the globe.

But while we have learned more and more about the effects of carbon pollution, not once have we asked the fossil fuel industry and other carbon emitters to pay to clean up their waste.

Instead, we have been footing the bill.

The fossil fuel industry is the only industry that doesn’t pay to clean up its own waste.

Instead, they profit of off the negative externalities – that waste – that comes with our nation’s addiction to 19th century fossil fuels.

Externalities reduce the costs of business for a corporation, which means increased profits.

So, the fossil fuel industry will do anything to protect these externalities, because it means that they can dump their trash (carbon dioxide) on you and me without having to pay a dime for it, all the while seeing their profits skyrocket.

A recent study by the TEEB for Business Coalition found that globally, the top 100 environmental externalities cost the world-wide economy nearly $4.7 trillion each year.

That $4.7 trillion includes the costs of greenhouse gas emissions, the depletion of natural resources, the costs of climate change, the costs of cleaning up from climate-change driven severe weather events, and the costs of pollution-related health problems.

In fact, back in 2013, researchers in Europe released two separate studies, that revealed that fossil fuel-based carbon pollution can directly cause lung cancer, and can even worsen heart conditions and heart failure.

And countless other studies have detailed fossil fuel-driven carbon pollution’s role in driving up cases of asthma and other health issues.

Right now, the fossil fuel industry has no incentive to change its ways. No incentive to stop flooding our skies with pollution, and no incentive to stop profiting off their negative externalities.

And to make matters worse, we are funding the fossil fuel industry’s polluting ways.

Because of our out-of-whack tax policies, we are forking over more than $4 billion each year in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

And when you’re getting $4 billion each year from the government, there’s not much incentive to change what you’re doing.

In his speech on Tuesday, President Obama called for end to those subsidies for Big Oil, saying, “Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.”

But while we’re closing tax loopholes and cutting off subsidies to Big Oil, let’s have that industry pay for the costs of its pollution with a carbon tax.

As soon as a carbon tax is introduced, not only will carbon pollution decrease, but all of the clean and green energy alternatives to fossil fuels will become economically viable, because fossil fuels will be more expensive to produce.

Carbon taxes are already popular over in Europe.

Sweden for example charges $150 per ton of carbon pollution dumped into the skies, and it’s working wonders to decrease carbon pollution in that country.

In the United States, a carbon tax would only be around $10 to $25 per ton. Just think how successful that could be.

Even China has started a carbon-trading scheme, in hopes of cutting back on its high levels of pollution.

Every day that America’s fossil fuel industry pumps carbon pollution our skies, people are getting sicker, our environment is deteriorating, and climate change is speeding up.

It’s time to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, and make the transition from 19th century energy sources to 21st century energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal.

Once we put a tax on carbon that reflects its true cost, fossil fuels will go from being the cheapest energy source to one of the most expensive, and the marketplace will naturally drive everybody towards renewable energy.

Call your members of Congress, and tell them that we need a carbon tax today.