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Wikipedia’s definition of a Carbon Tax


carbon tax is an environmental tax on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It is an example of a pollution tax.

Carbon atoms are present in every fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas) and are released as CO2 when they are burnt. In contrast, non-combustion energy sources — wind, sunlight, hydropower, and nuclear — do not convert hydrocarbons to carbon dioxide. Accordingly, a carbon tax is effectively a tax on the use of fossil fuels, and only fossil fuels. Some schemes also include other greenhouse gases; the global warming potential is an internationally accepted scale of equivalence for other greenhouse gases in units of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Because of the link with global warming, a carbon tax is sometimes assumed to require an internationally administered scheme. However, that is not intrinsic to the principle. The European Union considered a carbon tax covering its member states prior to starting its emissions trading scheme in 2005. The UK has unilaterally introduced a range of carbon taxesand levies to accompany the EU ETS trading regime. Note that emissions trading systems do not constitute a Pigovian tax because it entails the creation of a property right. Nonetheless, both taxes and tradable permits put a price on emissions, and that price is equal to all parties involved. Therefore, emission reduction targets are met at minimum cost.

The intention of a carbon tax is environmental: to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and thereby slow climate change. It can be implemented by taxing the burning of fossil fuels — coal, petroleum products such as gasoline and aviation fuel, and natural gas — in proportion to their carbon content. Unlike other approaches such as carbon cap-and-trade systems, direct taxation has the benefit of being easily understood and can be popular with the public if the revenue from the tax is returned by reducing other taxes. Alternatively, it may be used to fund environmental projects.

In economic theory, pollution is considered a negative externality because it has a negative effect on a party not directly involved in a transaction.

To confront parties with the issue, the economist Arthur Pigou proposed taxing the goods (in this case fossil fuels) which were the source of the negative externality (carbon dioxide) so as to accurately reflect the cost of the goods’ production to society, thereby internalizing the costs associated with the goods’ production. A tax on a negative externality is termed aPigovian tax, and should equal the marginal damage costs.

A carbon tax is an indirect tax — a tax on a transaction — as opposed to a direct tax, which taxes income. As a result, some American conservatives have supported such a carbon tax because it taxes at a fixed rate, independent of income, which complements their support of a flat tax.[2]

Prices of carbon (fossil) fuels are expected to continue increasing as more countries industrialize and add to the demand on fuel supplies. In addition to creating incentives for energy conservation, a carbon tax would put renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal on a more competitive footing, stimulating their growth.

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Will Canada’s oil boom be an environmental bust? The new global wasteland?


Alberta the new oil wasteland

Alberta the new oil wasteland

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (AP) — The largest dump truck in the world is parked under a massive mechanical shovel waiting to transport 400 tons of oily sand at an open pit mine in the northern reaches of Alberta. Each Caterpillar 797B heavy hauler — three-stories high, with tires twice as tall as the average man — carries the equivalent of 200 barrels.

Shell, which has 35 of the massive loaders working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has ordered 16 more — at $5 million each — as it expands its open pit mines. And it is not alone among major oil companies rushing to exploit Alberta’s oil sands, which make Canada one of the few countries that can significantly ramp up oil production amid the decline in conventional reserves.

Shell, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Canada’s Imperial and other companies plan to strip an area here the size of New York state that could yield as much as 175 billion barrels of oil. Daily production of 1.2 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to nearly triple to 3.5 million barrels in 2020. Overall, Alberta has more oil than Venezuela, Russia or Iran. Only Saudi Arabia has more.

High prices — a barrel reached almost $150 last month and is around $115 now — are fueling the province’s oil boom. Since it’s costly to extract oil from the sands, using the process on a widespread basis began to make sense only when crude prices started skyrocketing earlier this century.

But the enormous amount of energy and water needed in the extraction process has raised fears among scientists, environmentalists and officials in an aboriginal town 170 miles downstream from Fort McMurray. The critics say the growing operations by major oil companies will increase greenhouse gas emissions and threaten Alberta’s rivers and forests.

“Their projected rates of expansion are so fast that we don’t have a hope in hell of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr. David Schindler, an environmental scientist at the University of Alberta.

Oil sands operations, including extraction and processing, are responsible for 4 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s expected to triple to 12 percent by 2020. Oil sand mining is Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases and is one reason it reneged on its Kyoto Protocol commitments. Experts say producing a barrel of oil from sands results in emissions three times greater than a conventional barrel of oil.

Worries about environmental damage have gotten enough attention that even the oil industry realizes it must tread softly on the issue. “Industry has to improve its environmental performance,” Brian Maynard, a vice president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said recently.

Questions about developing Alberta’s oil sands have seeped into the U.S. presidential campaign and the debate in Canada and the U.S. over keeping down the price of gasoline while still protecting the environment.

The Bush administration sees Alberta as a reliable source of energy that will help reduce reliance on Middle East oil. U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins said the oil sands will define the relationship between the two countries for the next 10 years.

“We are blessed by the fact that our friend and neighbor is also our number one supplier of foreign oil,” Wilkins told The Associated Press.

However, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s top energy adviser said oil sands emissions are “unacceptably high” and may run counter to Obama’s plan to shift the U.S. away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

“The amount of energy that you have to use to get that oil out of the ground is such that it actually creates a much greater impact on climate change, as well as using much more energy than even traditional petroleum,” Obama adviser Jason Grumet said.

Mining oil sands also was criticized by American mayors in a resolution adopted at their annual conference in June urging a ban on using oil sands-derived gasoline in municipal vehicles. They alleged the oil sands mines damage Canada’s boreal forest — boreal refers to the earth’s northern zone — and slows the transition to cleaner energy sources in the U.S.

John Baird, Canada’s environment minister, warned that Washington would lose energy security if it doesn’t take Alberta’s oil.

“If American mayors want to send their money to unstable, undemocratic countries in the Middle East instead of to Canada, that will be their call. If they want to pay a premium for Iranian, Saudi, Iraqi oil that will be their call,” Baird told the AP.

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