A carbon tax won’t happen without some give from the left. Nov 10, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 09 • By ELI LEHRER
Despite growing support from some conservative policy wonks, the idea of taxing carbon dioxide emissions, even as an alternative to the sort of heavy-handed greenhouse regulations promulgated by the Obama administration, has failed to garner much enthusiasm on the right.
The idea remains almost untouchable for Republican politicians, and the notion that there’s any chance that could change in the near future has been dismissed as “wishful thinking” by left-wing outlets like Mother Jones.
While this may be a fair assessment of the political facts as they stand, if progressives actually wanted to avert the various catastrophes that environmentalists say are inevitable without serious policy action—changes in growing seasons, collapse of certain fisheries, rising sea levels, and possibly increases in certain types of natural disasters—there are ways they could help sell a carbon tax to the right.
Conservatives will never support a carbon tax so long as they fear it will be used to promote more intrusive government, more spending, and more control over individuals’ lives. But if the left convincingly made the case that they are willing to give up new revenue, new regulations, and new resource development restrictions to make it happen, conservative support for a carbon tax is within the realm of possibility. But progressives will have to make certain policy concessions to get there.
For those on the right who do support a carbon tax—primarily conservative and libertarian-leaning economists like Gregory Mankiw, Kevin Hassett, and Irwin Stelzer—a primary attraction is the opportunity to use carbon tax revenues to cut taxes on productive activity, like labor and investment, and instead substitute a price on externalities that hurt the public. Adele Morris of the Brookings Institution has shown how a very modest carbon tax could easily help the United States bring its highest-in-the-world corporate income tax rates down to around the average for wealthy nations without eliminating the research and development tax credit and other widely supported tax breaks. The centrist environmental think tank Resources for the Future has done excellent work on how it might be used to cut payroll taxes.
The precipitating event that forces consideration of such trade-offs was the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision more or less requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. While there are reasons to question the court’s ruling, it will be nearly impossible to overturn. With bureaucrats set to regulate carbon dioxide, a carbon tax begins to look like an attractive alternative to the morass of costly regulations the Obama administration’s EPA intends to impose. The only other commonly discussed alternative—enacting a carbon-trading scheme, such as the cap and trade bill that passed the House in 2009—has proved nearly impossible to implement in any democracy. The European Union’s scheme has already collapsed twice, and a major one in California seems to be degenerating into a slush fund.
A carbon tax, properly constructed, could encourage energy producers to find the lowest-cost ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while leveling the playing field for energy sources like nuclear, wind, solar, and hydro. A first step might be for the EPA to allow states flexibility to pursue their own carbon taxes in lieu of subjecting themselves to new greenhouse gas regulation. Such an approach could prove a hugely attractive political option for Republican office-seekers, who would be able to promise cuts to state income, property, or sales taxes, while giving the boot to EPA busybodies. In private discussions, OMB officials have made positive noises about the possibility of allowing this to happen under the current law, and states including Virginia and Washington have discussed the possibility. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) has introduced a bill that would make state-level carbon taxes an option.
But all of these possibilities would require those on the left to come to the table by giving up their own dreams of recycling carbon tax proceeds into “green jobs” schemes and other boondoggles beloved of progressives. Some environmentalists are on board with the notion of a revenue-neutral carbon tax (although many insist on difficult-to-administer schemes that would provide a “dividend” to taxpayers), but that cohort shrinks significantly when it’s proposed that the tax replace EPA regulations, much less preempt energy-related regulations like fleet fuel-economy standards for automobiles. To have any chance of political success, a carbon tax would have to do exactly these things.
12:00 AM, Sep 28, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Last week was good for environmentalists, and perhaps even for the environment. President Obama doubled down on his effort to increase the likelihood of the success of the 2015 UN climate change conference in Paris, claiming the U.S. has “a special responsibility to lead. That’s what great nations do.” He took the occasion of the UN meetings in New York to put the heat on China, the world’s largest polluter, to match the steps the U.S. is taking to reduce its CO2 emissions.
Jun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook was dimly aware that the U.S. Army was reengineering its ammo but still was taken aback to read that it took 15 years and an estimated $100 million to come up with a new 5.56 NATO round for our infantrymen. It cost so much and took so long because, you know, it’s not easy being green. Today’s bullet is lead-free—made from copper with a steel penetrator.
2:48 PM, Jun 4, 2014 • By ADAM J. WHITE
"Everything reminds Milton of the money supply," Robert Solow once said of his fellow Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman at a symposium. "Well, everything reminds me of sex, but I keep it out of the paper."
And the benefits.12:00 AM, May 24, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
The fracking euphoria had to end. For three reasons. First, the claims for its benefits were wildly exaggerated, ensuring eventual disappointment as even a cheerful reality could not meet the imaginings of the pro-fossil-fuel gang. Second, environmental groups were not going to sit idly by, their formidable political weapons holstered, while fossil fuels received a new lease on life in America.
2:38 PM, May 7, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The administration has made climate change its signature issue until something better comes along. This means that the the EPA will be walking point. After all, no new environmental legislation will be coming out of Congress. President Obama didn’t ever try for that when his party had majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Of course the weather was nicer back then, so Washington may not have felt the urgency.
8:26 AM, Apr 22, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The Keystone pipeline has been under study for five years and will be studied further. It will be built, or scuttled, when the politics are right.
10:01 AM, Mar 12, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
A new Gallup poll shows the American people say climate change is one of the problems they worry about the least.
The polling firm asked Americans how much they worry about 15 separate issues facing the country, with the economy, federal spending, and health care ranking at the top. Fifty-nine percent said the economy and jobs were an issue they worried about "a great deal," and 58 percent and 57 percent said the same for federal spending and health-care affordability, respectively.
4:10 PM, Mar 11, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Harry Reid claims that recent bad weather is more evidence climate change exists and needs a response from the federal government. Reid's comments today come just after the Senate's all-night "talkathon," during which several Democratic senators spoke back-to-back about climate change.
7:44 AM, Jan 20, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
In recent days, the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, took to Twitter to express deep concern about the practice of a local Japanese tradition.
"Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries," Kennedy tweeted.
8:01 AM, Jan 15, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
The EPA awarded $461,368 in grants this week for various environmental projects along the U.S.-Mexico border. About half of the funds went to projects in Calexico, CA and Phoenix, AZ, but the remaining $230,000 went to two cities on the Mexican side of the border, Nogales and Ensenada.
8:26 AM, Nov 1, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
Although CO2 is considered a "greenhouse gas" that contributes to climate change, if the Energy Department (DOE) finds partners to capitalize on the research of one of its laboratories, someday cars might run on sunshine. Technically, cars would run on the product of sunlight, CO2, and water using a "two-step solar thermochemical cycle" developed by the Albuquerque, New Mexico government lab.
7:21 AM, Jun 25, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Daniel P. Schrag, a White House climate adviser and director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, tells the New York Times "a war on coal is exactly what's needed." Later today, President Obama will give a major "climate change" address at Georgetown University.
"My only interest is making sure that when I look back 20 years from now..."7:02 AM, May 30, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
At a fundraiser last night in Chicago, President Barack Obama signaled that he's interested in his legacy as a president and insisted that he's willing to work with anyone.
2:45 PM, May 21, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The crusade to save the spotted owl continues. It began with limiting timber sales on federally managed lands in order to preserve the owl's preferred habitat. As a result, Teresa Platt writes: