Does San Francisco Want a Carbon Tax?

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is looking to join the ranks of local leaders who are working to implement a carbon tax. At the Cleantech Forum in downtown San Francisco Tuesday morning, Newsom said he hopes to get authorization by the end of the year for a plan that would tax businesses’ carbon emissions. He also said his staff are working on a congestion pricing strategy (adding a toll for driving in the city center) that would rival London’s.

Newsom wants to replace the city’s payroll tax on businesses with a carbon tax aimed at encouraging companies to cut down on energy consumption and reducing their carbon emissions. Newsom says the decrease of the payroll tax would render the carbon tax “revenue neutral,” though he didn’t give many financial details of the plan. He also didn’t give any details of a congestion pricing plan. Wishful thinking?

With Northern California bringing in a third of global funding for cleantech, it’s about time San Francisco got aggressive on local carbon legislation. But after reading about the missteps of early implementations of local carbon taxes, we’re hoping Gavin has some bright minds on his staff ready to work out the kinks.

Carole Taylor, the finance minister for the Canadian province of British Columbia, just up the coast, recently unveiled a carbon tax of C$10 ($10.18) per ton of greenhouse gas that is scheduled to go into effect in July. But as Craig pointed out, this does not apply to the emissions from industrial farms, landfills, and oil and gas producers, which make up a third of the province’s emissions; the tax will be applied to driving and heating costs instead.

Meanwhile the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is pushing a “congestion charge” that would see owners of polluting cars pay £25 ($50) a day to drive in London. The proposal has already earned him a “judicial review process” leveled by Porsche, which alleges it is an “unjust 3000 percent congestion charge increase.”

Can Newsom, who is always eager to push the envelope with progressive — and aggressive — initiatives, do better than his peers? Well, he does have to answer to the Valley contingent and the city’s growing cleantech industry base, so he’ll likely avoid anything deemed too anti-business. But carbon taxes are so unpalatable to many voters, it could be tough to rally support for that ballot measure, which Newsom hopes to submit for the November elections.

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