The Republican Carbon Tax Plan

A group of Reagan and Bush era Republicans, publishing in the name of a newly formed “Climate Leadership Council,” have proposed a national carbon tax and dividend coupled with a “significant rollback” of environmental regulations which seek to limit carbon dioxide emissions. If you want to read their publication directly, it can be downloaded from their website.

The poison pill in this plan is the elimination of environmental regulations. Apparently, it is not enough for them that the American oil and gas industry is exempt from the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking water Act and several other federal laws. (See http://www.frackfreecolorado.com/oil–gas-exemptions-from-federal-laws.html) They also want to eliminate controls on emissions from coal-powered generating plants, mileage requirements for vehicles, and anything else that regulates emissions directly.

They would like to sell us on the notion that the carbon tax can accomplish the task all by itself. In theory, it can, provided the tax is high enough, is applied strictly and with absolutely no exemptions for the military or other government agency, absolutely no exemptions for any nation and absolutely no exemptions for any company or industry. Their publication of course does not mention the possibility of any such exemption.

The possibility of exemptions still exists. Mentioning it would not help sell their idea of “rollback” (i.e., elimination) of environmental regualations. Therefore, it is not mentioned.

There is no actual need to eliminate specific environmental regulations in order to have a carbon tax. There’s nothing inherently incompatible between the two ways of controlling emissions.

For instance, a carbon tax and mileage requirements for vehicles both push in the same direction. A carbon tax and limits on smokestack emissions for coal-burning power plants both push in the same direction. If the carbon tax has compelled automakers to exceed minimum mileage requirements and has forced utilities to shut down coal-burning plants, that’s not really a problem for the goal of reducing emissions.

Let’s picture the situation if environmental regulations have been eliminated, and then there’s a financial/economic crisis similar to to the one that happened in 2008. It did happen in 2008, and restrictions on banking intended to prevent a recurrence are being dismantled, so it’s certainly a possibility that a similar crisis will repeat.

Oh, no! Layoffs! Unemployment! Major companies losing profits and going bankrupt! Stock market crash! We have to take whatever measures are needed to revive the economy immediately! Let’s eliminate the carbon tax! it’s clearly a big drag on the economy!

Hey, there’s a crisis, so this is no time to talk about bringing back environmental regulations. Besides, the agencies that used to do inspection and enforcement have been closed down, technical experts have found different jobs, enabling laws repealed, laws repealed … it’s just impossible to put environmental regulations in place quickly.

In other words, in Phase 1, eliminate environmental regulations because with a carbon tax, they are “not needed.” Then, for Phase 2, eliminate the carbon tax. Mission accomplished.

That is, in my opinion, the intention of the Republican carbon tax plan. A carbon tax is great idea if it is in addition to environmental regulation. It’s a terrible idea if it’s just an excuse to eliminate them.

If anything in current environmental law should be rolled back, it’s  exemptions granted the oil and gas industries.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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