Recap: Stanford Carbon Tax Panel

February 25th, 2017-

The Stanford Energy Club’s Projects Team spent the past year writing and researching the implementation of a carbon tax on Stanford’s campus titled “The Carbon Pricing Program for Stanford’s Campus”. The Carbon Pricing project’s main goal is to reduce current carbon emissions emitted by Stanford campus actions by implementing programs that discourage these actions. Departments and/or buildings would be responsible for their direct emissions. The Carbon Pricing project would hope that because of this disincentive to partake in actions that release greenhouse gas emission to the atmosphere and contribute to global warming, building will increase their efficiency, which will also reduce costs, and departments will educate the people that use the building to change their habits.

The larger environmental problem that motivates this project is climate change. There are many effects of climate change, such as melting ice caps and warmer temperatures, which are affecting the planet right now. Reducing carbon emissions is the best way to mitigate climate change and by instituting a Carbon Pricing Program on campus, Stanford can be a leader in this field. Stanford has already built a solar power plant to supply 50% of their electricity, bringing a total of 65% of Stanford’s power coming from renewable resources. It is time for Stanford Campus to take the next step in reducing Stanford’s carbon footprint by challenging the University to be completely carbon neutral. Instituting a Carbon Pricing Program can bring Stanford closer to carbon neutrality as well as show other universities, cities, and states that a carbon-pricing program can work.

To debate the implementation and feasibility of such a tax on campus, students of the Projects team invited four distinguished speakers on a panel moderated by Shannon Wojcik to discuss future steps. The talk brought together the great minds of Professors Frank Wolak, Hillard Huntington, Jim Sweeney, and Mark Thurber. The panel focused on several key topics such as cap and trade programs implemented by other countries, loopholes in the current system, rewriting the tax code, and understanding how other universities are addressing this situation, and the situation in California.

“If you are a Stanford student, you don’t get a bill based on the shower and lights you use. Stanford had competition between dorms in the past to reduce consumption. They have an effect while the competition is going on, but the next generations of students tend to forget. These competitions are good if they keep it going. One way of keeping it going is by introducing a bill,” said Professor Jim Sweeney. Huntington responded by saying, “At Yale they have put in place fees and people do respond because they are interested in this.”

One topic of interest in the debate was the focus on revising the tax code. Prof. Wolak mentioned that in order to finance large infrastructure programs, as the current administration is proposing, a large source of revenue will be required. Hillard noted, “if this [carbon tax] is to come about, a huge powwow of rewriting the tax code and saying that there is a new source of revenue will be essential.”

As Prof. Thurber noted, no other university has implemented a substantial and robust carbon tax policy that has worked. Professor Wolak ended the panel on an optimistic note, that the conversation of such a policy needs to start at the university and be a grassroots movement to gain sufficient momentum. “You guys are the guys that are going to make things happen. It’s going to be grassroots; it’s going to be imperfect. But it is going to be the way things are going to happen.”

-Written by the Stanford Energy Club