City council lends support to fossil fuel initiative

A new approach to curb the usage of fossil fuels was narrowly given support by the Claremont City Council Tuesday night.

Carbon Fee and Dividend, a method of increasing fees on carbon and fossil fuels is a way to jumpstart the economy and spur growth of alternative fuel options in the state, the city says. The council voted to send a resolution of support for the system and asked city staff to send a letter to Claremont’s state and federal representatives and Governor Jerry Brown.

The system works like this: A fee is placed on carbon, which translates to a fee on fossil fuels. The Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL), the group spearheading support for the system, proposes a $15 per ton fee on CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, with an escalating fee of $10 per ton per year, according to the city. This would translate to a 15-cent per gallon increase in fuel the first year, and a 10-cent per gallon increase every year afterward.

The money collected from the fee increase is set to go directly into consumers’ pockets via a monthly dividend check, the city said.

“The idea is when consumers spend dividends on business services, it grows the economy,” Claremont Senior Management Analyst Jamie Harvey said in her presentation.

The money from the checks averages about $192 per month per household, with lower-income homes receiving a larger net impact of the dividend than higher-income homes.

The system could lead to less fuel consumption of fuel, which would mean a reduction in carbon emissions.

A study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) noted that a carbon fee and dividend system could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 52 percent below 1990 levels within 20 years, the city said, while adding up to 2.8 million jobs to the economy due to the potential economic stimulus generated by the system.

The CCL maintains there is bipartisan support for the system, with Claremont resident Betsy Klein telling the council that a group, including former Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, presented a “conservative approach to climate change” to President Donald Trump in February. Their plan closely mimicked the carbon fee and dividend system, Ms. Klein noted.

But, the group admits, there could be trouble getting the higher-ups in Washington, DC to look into such a system. This is why they are seeking local support to get the word out and Claremont, with its track record in sustainability, could start that process and get more cities on board.

The council chamber was full of supporters of the resolution, including longtime Sustainable Claremont stalwart Freeman Allen.

In response to Mayor Pro Tem Opanyi Nasiali’s question of why the council is voting on the resolution prior to the May 20 priorities meeting, Mr. Allen noted the situation to curb climate change is critical.

“That’s why I think it’s extremely important for this city council to take a position on this, because the only way that this is likely to really move forward effectively is through action at the local level,” Mr. Allen said. “What could be more important for cities such as Claremont than taking action on it?”

Mr. Allen also noted State Senator Kevin de Leon, a Pitzer College graduate, has introduced a bill in the state senate that would replace the current carbon exchange program with Carbon Fee and Dividend. “It was felt this would be much more effective, and a much more reliable way to address climate change,” he said.

Nine speakers took to the podium to express support, with many stating that climate change was the most pressing issue currently facing the planet. After each person spoke, thunderous applause rang out from the audience, and some held up signs saying, “Support Carbon Fee and Dividend.”

“We look to you to add to the voice and to build the momentum,” said CCL Inland Empire Co-Leader Penelope Mann.

Councilmember Joe Lyons was in favor of the resolution, noting the apparent lack of interest in Washington should spur local governments to take charge.

“My sense is…because we don’t have an ability to directly affect legislation in this area, that we have an obligation to speak out and let those who vote on our behalf on information that represents the will of our community,” he said.

Councilmember Corey Calaycay abstained on voting, once again citing his reluctance to cast a vote supporting or opposing statewide and nationwide issues. He noted, as before, he didn’t feel comfortable putting all citizens of Claremont “on record” with his vote.

When reached by phone Wednesday, Mr. Calaycay said that the council will discuss a policy on whether council should even be addressing these broad-range issues at the Council Priorities Workshop on May 20. He said he was “getting a little frustrated” with the city bringing forth recommendations to support or oppose statewide initiatives.

“Frankly, if I wanted to get involved in assembly issues I would have run for those offices,” he said. “But I ran for city council.”

In March, Mr. Calaycay voted yes on a letter of support for SB1, AB1 and AB18, three senate and assembly bills that would levy a gasoline tax in order to fund transportation and infrastructure projects.

Mr. Calaycay noted that voting on those bills wasn’t the same as abstaining, because the March agenda item wasn’t a formal resolution, and therefore he didn’t feel he was putting the citizens of Claremont on record.

He also said he wanted the vote on the council’s support for the gas tax to be continued to a later date, but ultimately supported it due to Mr. Nasiali’s amendment to recommend a sunset date for the bills.

Mr. Nasiali’s amendment was used as an example of the transitive nature of such issues, Mr. Calaycay added—sometimes, bills the council supports change over time.

“If I’m going to vote on something, I want to vote on something I have control over and that I can take responsibility for,” Mr. Calaycay said.

Local purview was also the reason why Mr. Nasiali voted against the resolution. In his remarks, he maintained that he understood the need for the resolution, but felt it wasn’t Claremont’s place to vote on it.

“We have local issues we have to deal with, and I am elected to deal with the local issues,” Mr. Nasiali said. “And some items or issues are handled by other layers of government—county, state, federal government.”

Councilmember Sam Pedroza, who voted for the resolution, said he disagreed with Mr. Calaycay’s assertion that voting on resolutions such as this one would be “putting the whole city on the record.” He believes the council is merely supporting the resolution at hand.

“As representatives of Claremont residents, that’s what I feel is one of our tasks,” he added.

He echoed Mr. Allen’s comments about starting the movement here to motivate change at higher levels of government.

“A program like this starts at the local level, because that’s where the people are—people who live in cities,” he said.

The resolution passed, with Mr. Pedroza, Mr. Lyons and Mayor Larry Schroeder voting for it, Mr. Nasiali voting against and Mr. Calaycay abstaining.

The next city council meeting is on May 23.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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