A tax by any other name…

June 11, 2009

Can semantics help save the planet?

A showdown between leaders of Chevron Corp and the Sierra Club on Wednesday night revealed a number of shared beliefs between the two California institutions, particularly about the need for a transparent way of pricing carbon.

The debate at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club on Wednesday night pitted Chevron CEO David O’Reilly against Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, and both agreed that limiting carbon emissions should involve some sort of levy imposed by the government – if only there was a word for such a thing.

“It would be much cleaner if there was a transparent cost on carbon that one could see,” O’Reilly said.

The moderator suggested that was a ‘tax’. “Nobody wants to talk about it,” O’Reilly replied. 

“Call it a fee,” Pope then suggested.

They also agreed that legislation which is workable in California or other states was not so easy to sell at a national level, even though the White House now seemed supportive, according to Pope.

“You could have conversations with the Republican caucus in the Idaho legislature that you couldn’t have with anybody in Washington D.C.,” Pope said of the eight year Bush administration.

They strongly disagreed on the timeline for cutting carbon emissions, but both saw cars as among the last carbon emitters that would go, simply because people would have to pay to replace them.

“The last clunker on the road will probably be one of the last relics of the energy economy of the 20th century,” Pope said.

Pope also suggested that all oil companies worldwide should commit to putting 10 percent of their profits over the next decade into a fund to help communities hurt by production of oil and gas.

O’Reilly, having said earlier in the debate that he made $14 million last year, noted this cost would also be passed along to consumers ultimately, but didn’t think many were in the mood for that.

“If you can get the government to increase taxes other than on a few of us, I agree,” O’Reilly said to boos and hisses.

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