California is Sinking?

You probably have heard that the western drought has forced Californians to cut back on lawn watering and other uses of water. But did you know that many areas of the Golden State are sinking?

As a result of the driest four years ever recorded in California, farmers in the Central Valley, the nation's most productive agricultural region, have turned to groundwater to irrigate their crops, AP’s Scott Smith reported recently. Some are tapping ancient aquifers 3,000 feet down. Land subsidence is largely the result of this pumping because, as aquifers are depleted, the ground sags.

The most severe examples today are in San Joaquin Valley, where the U.S. Geological Survey in 1975 said half of the land is prone to sinking, Scott wrote. USGS researchers later called it one of the "single largest alterations of the land surface attributed to humankind."

James Borchers, a hydro-geologist who studies subsidence, says careful monitoring is necessary to detect and address sinking before it can do major damage to costly infrastructure such as bridges and pipelines.

While subsidence has been a problem for decades, it is accelerating. Last year near Corcoran, the land sank 13 inches in eight months, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory found. Parts of the California Aqueduct, a massive canal that delivers water 400 miles to Southern California, also sank by nearly 13 inches, NASA’s research shows.

This has cost the state of California "tens of millions of dollars" in repairs to the aqueduct in the last 40 years, and officials expect to spend that much in the future, said Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the state's Department of Water Resources.

While this winter’s El Nino is expected to increase precipitation in California, scientists say that the added rain and snow will not compensate for the years of drought.

As climate change proceeds, the state’s subsidence problem is likely to increase, running up a tab in the billions--yet another sign that it would be much smarter to invest NOW in the rapid reduction of carbon emissions.

We agree with the vast majority of economists: The quickest, most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions is to enact a carbon fee. Such a step may sound like a non-starter on Capitol Hill, given the harsh rhetoric emitted by a number of powerful legislators. But creative compromise is still possible in Washington, and our nonprofit has met with 175 senators and House members to share an idea.

We urged them to consider creating a revenue-neutral carbon fee with half the proceeds going toward reducing our corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent. This rate is the highest in the industrialized world, and it is encouraging major corporations like Pfizer to move their headquarters—and taxable profits—outside the United States.

These conversations indicated that there is strong bipartisan receptiveness to this centrist
approach, provided businesses and local opinion leaders speak out in support. A survey by three GOP pollsters in September showed that 54 percent of conservative Republicans would support a carbon fee if the proceeds were rebated.

The fee could start at $35 or so per ton, perhaps doubling over ten years. It should be levied at the mine mouth or oil and gas collection point. A $35-per-ton levy equates to about 32 cents per gallon of gasoline. To offset these slightly higher energy costs, half the proceeds could be refunded to low- and middle-income consumers, making them whole or better off. A border adjustment can protect domestic manufacturers.

This free-market approach would create jobs, increase the rate of GDP growth, and allow energy generators and businesses the certainty needed to make sound usiness expansion decisions. It also could create momentum for more comprehensive tax reform.

Carbon fees work. British Columbia has had one since 2008. It has reduced fossil fuel consumption by 9 percent, while use in the rest of that country has risen. Meantime, British Columbia’s GDP growth has outperformed Canada’s.

The time has come for U.S. leadership in setting a global price on carbon. Every day we delay, the more it will cost us to deal with land subsidence, crop loss, forest fires, and other problems that climate change is contributing to.