Maryland’s Montgomery County gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a tax on carbon emissions, the first such tax by a county nationwide.
The vote by the all-Democratic council was held amid angry protests and heckling from opponents, one of whom kept repeating the question “define greenhouse gas,” according to Gazette.net.
The tax of $5 per ton of CO2 applies to emitters of one million tons or more of CO2 each year, which, in Montgomery County means one company: the local coal-fired power plant, run by Mirant.
“This is an important measure for the people of Montgomery County,” said Councilmember Roger Berliner, the bill’s chief sponsor. “We have taken an action that says those who pollute our environment should pick up after themselves.”
Inspiration for the landmark bill may not only be based on environmental stewardship, however. Montgomery County, like many, many other parts of the country, is facing a severe budget shortfall this year, and it is estimated that the tax could raise $15 million. Half of the money raised would go to county greenhouse gas reduction efforts, according to the text of the bill (PDF).
Mirant Mid-Atlantic VP Robert Gaudette said that the county would only raise about $7.5 million because, as a result of the tax, the plant will reduce output. The Dickerson Generating Plant, located along the Potomac river in Dickerson, MD, emits 3.47 million tons of CO2 each year, about a quarter of the county’s total emissions of CO2.
Gaudette also said the bill would result in a worse over-all environment because it would force utilities to buy their electricity from out-of-state providers which have less stringent air-quality rules.
Berliner dismissed this reasoning, and said he took his environmental advice from environmental leaders, not coal companies, according to Gazette.net. The bill received the support of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Dr. Matthias Ruth, director of the environmental policy program at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.