Australia Approves Tax On Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Lawmakers in Australia have passed a law that will impose a tax on the country's top 500 polluters, and use the resulting funds to invest in clean energy. The legislation had a long and bitter passage through Parliament, and deeply divided Australians who are heavily reliant on coal-fired power plants.

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In Australia, the parliament has approved a tough new tax on greenhouse gas emissions. As Stuart Cohen reports, this comes after years of controversy.

STUART COHEN, BYLINE: The highly divisive issue of pricing greenhouse gas emissions claimed the jobs of two Australian party leaders on its way to becoming law. The new tax will take effect next July. It puts a price of $23 per metric ton on carbon emissions, taxing the country's 500 most polluting companies and then giving much of the money to individual consumers to compensate for higher prices of food, energy and transportation. There's also a raft of grants for businesses to encourage investment in green technologies. Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard, calls it a win for the nation.

PRIME MINISTER JULIA GILLARD: Today's vote is a win for those who will seek their fortune and make their way by having jobs in our clean energy sector. It's a win for those who want our environment to be a cleaner environment and see less carbon pollution.

COHEN: Many prices will rise just a few cents as a result of the new tax, and the government days most families will get more in compensation than they pay in higher costs. But the law's ultimate success is still in doubt. Australia's opposition party, which currently leads in opinion polls, is promising to repeal the law if it comes to power in the next election. The opposition's climate change spokesman Greg Hunt says the prime minister broke an election pledge.

GREG HUNT: And the price for that betrayal will be higher electricity, higher gas and higher grocery costs for Australian families, Australian pensioners and Australian small business owners.

COHEN: But many businesses are now stuck wondering whether to start spending on greener technologies or wait to see if the law is repealed under a new government. For NPR News, I'm Stuart Cohen in Sydney.

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