Two Rice University researchers are calling on policymakers to encourage the transition from coal-based electricity production to a system based on natural gas through a carbon tax.
Such a mechanism would help limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December, the United States pledged to reduce the 2005 levels of CO2 emissions by 17 percent by 2020.
Dagobert Brito, the George A. Peterkin Professor of Political Economy, and Robert Curl, the Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences and winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry, made this recommendation in a paper published by Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. A PDF of the paper can be viewed at http://www.bakerinstitute.org/publications/BI-pub-BritoCurlCO2ElecEcon-070210.pdf/view.
Brito and Curl argue that there are three important unresolved questions in the current debate on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions: "First, what is the range of prices on carbon dioxide emissions that will be necessary to achieve the desired reductions? Second, should electrical generators and transport fuels be regulated jointly or separately? Third, should the restrictions be in the form of a quantity limit such as cap and trade or in the form of a carbon tax?"
The authors calculated the cost of CO2 emissions by modeling the transition from coal-based electricity generation to a system based on natural gas. Because coal-based electricity generation accounts for about a third of U.S. CO2 emissions (some 2 billion metric tons), Brito and Curl describe it as "the 900-pound gorilla in the room." Replacing coal generators with natural gas, they believe, "is the most economical way to achieve a target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent."
The United States is already moving from coal-based electricity pr
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