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President Carter calls for carbon tax at Aspen renewable energy conference

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ASPEN, Colo. -- President Jimmy Carter called a tax on carbon emissions "the only reasonable approach" to combating climate change during an appearance here Tuesday, but lamented that even piecemeal actions are unlikely to get through a divided Congress.

Carter, 89, who received a lifetime achievement award on the final day of the American Renewable Energy Day summit, spoke during a luncheon attended by a number of conservationists as well as Ted Turner, T. Boone Pickens and Tom Steyer, the California billionaire pledging to devote his personal finances to political candidates willing to take action on climate change.

The 39th president, who created the Dept. of Energy and advocated for conservation before scientists began to understand the impact of human activity on climate, told AREI's Sally Ranney that he didn't have to deal with the same level of partisan gridlock in Congress as President Obama currently does.

"I think now the opportunity is even greater for us to take action. But we had very good support then from Republicans, almost as much from Republicans as Democrats," he said.

"The country was not divided into red and blue states then. Money didn't completely control the campaigns for Congress and president.

"I believe almost anything President Obama advocates, Congress is going to oppose."

The Obama administration is currently considering new rules to force states to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030, but Carter cautioned that executive actions taken without the support of Congress won't be as impactful as passing legislation.

Carter said he believes Obama is now "doing the best he can" but that he wishes he'd acted sooner.

"I was a bit disappointed he took a wait and see approach during his first five or six years in office, but he's moving now," Carter said.

Carter also lamented that the United States lags behind most other developed countries in the percentage of its energy that's drawn from renewable sources.

"We've seen some countries devote themselves to renewable energy," Carter said, noting that Canada now gets 60 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

"The United States is right at the bottom, with only 10 percent of our energy coming from renewable sources. So we still have a tremendous opportunity to do what we haven't done.

"The biggest problem we have right now is some nutcases in our country who don't believe in global warming. I think that they are going to change their position because the evidence of the ravages of global warming is coming or is already there."