Australia Green Lights Pay-to-Pollute Tax

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In a move aimed at lowering carbon emissions, Australia sent a strong message Tuesday that there is a hefty price to pay for pollution and climate change.

After many years of fierce debate, the Australian Senate approved the Clean Energy Act by 36 to 32 votes, breaking out in cheers and applause after the outcome was drawn requiring Australia’s coal-fired power stations and other major carbon emitters to pay-to-pollute.

The Senate vote is a victory for Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who had given strong backing to the plan, saying it was a culmination of a “quarter of a century of scientific warnings, 37 parliamentary inquiries and years of bitter debate and division.”

"Today Australia has a price on carbon as the law of our land," she said.

"Today we have made history – after all of these days of debate and division, our nation has got the job done.

Gillard said the scheme – which will levy a price of AUD$23 (US$23.80) per tonne on carbon pollution before moving to an emissions trading scheme in 2015 – would begin to address "the devastating impacts of climate change".

Environmentalists have broadly backed the scheme, but there have been large public protests against it.

Opposition parties have argued that the tax would cause job losses and raise the cost of living, and they have promised to repeal the legislation if they win the next election, due in 2013.

"The great debate on this legislation is over," Senator Brown said, vowing the legislation will never be rescinded despite threats by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to do so.

Abbott, who is abroad and missed the historic vote, said Gillard had no mandate to impose the carbon price and the Australian people had been betrayed.

"Today Julia Gillard and the Labour Party have confirmed in law their betrayal of the Australian people," Abbott said in a statement.

“Three million households will be worse off under the tax,” he said.

"The longer this tax is in place, the worse the consequences for the economy, jobs and families. It will drive up the cost of living, threaten jobs and do nothing for the environment."

Environmental activist and former U.S. vice president Al Gore praised the efforts of Gillard, saying "as the world's leading coal exporter, there's no doubt that opposition to this legislation was fierce" but "the voice of the people of Australia has rung out loud and clear".

Outside Australia, China is considering a pilot emission trading scheme while South Korea is pursuing a "cap without trade" scheme involving some 450 companies from next year in preparation for a full emissions trading scheme from January 2015.