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Fossil Fuels Are the Future

A climate agenda for the president.

Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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That is a pity, because even those who are skeptical of the claims made about the causes and effects of climate change should prepare for the contingency that they (we) just might be wrong. Here is where the president has an opportunity to lead, if he is willing to lead down a different path: that of tax reform and a carbon tax, both of which measures he supported before dropping them in the face of congressional opposition.

Obama would have to be willing to concede that such a tax would be revenue-neutral, rather than revenue-enhancing if it is to have any chance of succeeding. But politics is, after all, the art of the possible, and if he really believes that climate change is the burning issue of our time he should give up a few bucks to prevent its worst effects. Besides, if the taxes to be offset are inhibiting growth, he would have a nice bonus.

Instead of trying to get other nations to go along with emissions restrictions that he cannot sell to either party in Congress, the president can use the podium in New York to announce that legislation establishing a carbon tax will be introduced. Rather than rely on his powers of persuasion to get his fellow leaders to go along, he can announce that the legislation will include border tax adjustments that impose an equivalent burden on goods imported from countries that choose not to follow his leadership in fighting global warming. Finally, to make certain that the applause is accompanied by a standing ovation from economists of all persuasions and, I am told, from many environmentalists, he can announce the repeal of government-inflating, costly regulations made unnecessary by a market-based carbon tax.

That, Mr. President, is a strategy. Not one assured of success, but having a better chance than one built on subverting the Constitution and relying on government planning of a complicated energy sector rather than on price signals from millions of consumers of energy.

Irwin M. Stelzer is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, and a columnist for the Sunday Times (London).

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