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Pricing Carbon Emissions? Bring It On, Say Some Large Companies


Electric power plant outside Ithaca, New York

Electric power plant outside Ithaca, New York

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It seems many large companies are willing to pay a price for their emissions.

A new report by environmental data company CDP found that at least 29 companies--including the five major oil companies, Walmart, and American Electric Power--are now incorporating a price on carbon emissions into the their financial plans, according to The New York Times.

Many of these companies previously resisted acknowledging the scientific consensus around climate change, and many have close ties to the U.S. Republican Party, which makes this a remarkable shift.

Now, the companies are moving toward accounting for carbon emissions as a cost of doing business.

ExxonMobil has long been known for contributions to research attempting to deny climate change, but now the company seems to be planning for a future in which carbon emissions are priced at $60 a ton.

The oil giant believes the U.S. government and others will enact some kind of carbon-pricing scheme sometime in the near future, ExxonMobil spokesman Alan Jeffers told the Times.

Electric-car wells-to-wheels carbon-emission equivalencies in MPG [Union of Concerned Scientists]

Electric-car wells-to-wheels carbon-emission equivalencies in MPG [Union of Concerned Scientists]

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Such a policy in the U.S. probably won't come out of the current deadlocked Congress, but steps are being taken in that direction.

The EPA recently proposed rules that limited carbon-dioxide emissions from new coal-fired power plants.

This--along with rising supplies and the falling cost of natural gas--is already curtailing the use of coal as a fuel for energy generation. The Tennessee Valley Authority now plans to shut down eight coal-fired electricity-generating units, and ultimately cut its coal use by half.

The emissions battle over coal could make it an economically-unsound asset.

For electric-car drivers, the situation can only improve.

Some skeptics say coal-generated energy makes electric cars bad for the environment.

But even on the nation's dirtiest grid, the well-to-wheels emissions of an electric car are barely worse than the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid, according to a recent Union of Concerned Scientists report.

On the nation's cleanest grids, no internal-combustion vehicle can match an electric car's low overall emissions.

As grids get cleaner, so do electric cars--which can't be said of gasoline, diesel, or natural-gas vehicles.

If big business is now willing to account for the external costs of its emissions, more than two centuries after the start of the Industrial Revolution, perhaps change is possible after all.

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