The Australian government has taken a critical step toward adopting a tax on carbon emissions, with the lower house of Parliament approving the controversial plan by a narrow margin. The bill, which survived a late push by opponents to delay a vote, would require the nation’s 500 biggest carbon emitters to pay a price of 23 Australian dollars ($23 U.S.) per ton of carbon. Most of the biggest emitters are electricity generators, heavy industry manufacturers, and mining companies. While the initiative will increase living costs for the average household by about $9.90 per week — including $3.30 for electricity — advocates of the plan say those hardships will be offset by reductions to the income tax and other benefits increases. The measure, which has been aggressively pushed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, is expected to pass the Senate with ease sometime next month. If approved, Australia would become the first nation to impose a direct tax on carbon, as opposed to an emissions trading scheme like the one now in effect in the European Union.