06/4/2007 by Charles Komanoff
Welcome to the second issue of A Convenient Tax, the Carbon Tax Center’s newsletter, summarizing our progress in April and May. (For Issue #1, click here.)
The big carbon-tax developments this spring have been (i) the first overt expressions of Congressional support for a carbon tax, (ii) a torrent of criticism of the competing “cap-and-trade” approach by editorial writers and other opinion leaders, and (iii) a significant increase in CTC’s visibility on the national stage.
Congressional Support for a Carbon Tax
Two milestones were reached in the national political arena in April.
First, California Democrat Fortney “Pete” Stark, the second-most senior member of the House Ways & Means Committee, introduced the first carbon-tax bill in Congress in a generation. The Save Our Climate Act, filed on April 26 and co-sponsored by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), would impose a $10 per ton (of carbon) charge on coal, petroleum and natural gas when the fuel is either extracted or imported. The charge would increase by $10 every year until U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have dropped 80 percent from 1990.
Prior to introducing the Save Our Climate Act, Rep. Stark’s staff reached out to CTC for guidance on carbon tax administrative and technical issues, as well as the optimal tax level, While the tax rate in the bill is several times less than what CTC is urging, we support it as an essential first step in the long legislative process, especially since the ramped-up tax in future years would tip millions of future carbon-critical decisions in land use, manufacturing and household purchasing toward carbon-conserving alternatives.
How quickly the Stark bill receives a hearing will depend on both the national political climate and the interest shown by other Ways & Means members. CTC has met with staff for other Committee members, as well as for Reps. McDermott and Stark, to review fine points and to convey the message that support for carbon taxing is growing in the grass roots.
In the other political milestone, Sen. Chris Dodd has built a strong carbon tax plank into his presidential election platform. Sen. Dodd, a Democrat who has represented Connecticut in the Senate since 1980, is making a Corporate Carbon Tax the centerpiece of his plan to eliminate 80% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“I don’t know how we can possibly talk about honestly getting to the [carbon] number we need to get to if you’re going to just dance around [the tax],” Dodd said as he campaigned in New Hampshire in April. “Price is the last real barrier.” Sen. Dodd has forthrightly put a carbon tax on the home page of his campaign Web site. In fact, on May 31 Sen. Dodd released a new television ad to run in Iowa and New Hampshire that promotes what he refers to as “a courageous corporate carbon tax to transform American industry.” CTC regards the senator’s corporate carbon tax as a lead-in to a universal carbon tax that can propagate incentives for carbon reductions throughout our economy.
Editorial Writers Back Tax, Take Whacks at Cap-and-Trade
When we two (Charles & Dan) resolved last fall to form the Carbon Tax Center, we looked forward to tangling with anti-tax ideologues on the Right and advocates of state intervention on the Left, not to mention Flat-Earthers who deny climate change altogether. We never anticipated that we would be debating with our friends and allies in the environmental community, but that became inevitable when, just before we launched announced the CTC, four large environmental organizations teamed up with major corporations to back carbon cap-and-trade regimes through the U.S. Climate Action Partnership.
CTC has no quarrel with the notion of tradeable emission allowances. In fact we credit the sulfur dioxide permit program enacted as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments with helping drive down acid rain emissions from power generation. But the scale and complexity of the carbon problem positively dwarf those of sulfur. (Block That Metaphor Department? We have likened the disparity to the difference between a French mud hut and the Palace of Versailles, in an article in Gristmill; and to the difference between a Mozart sonata and a Wagnerian opera, in an invited
post on the on-line Portfolio magazine.) Our fear is that with so many billions at stake, any carbon cap-and-trade program will necessarily be beset by crippling delays, inside-dealing and favoritism run wild. The result will be to disgust and disillusion the American public so that it turns against putting a price on carbon emissions altogether.
On this score, CTC finds itself in fine company. In just the past two months, outspoken criticisms of carbon cap-and-trade proposals have been published in Reason magazine, the Financial Times (U.K.), the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times Science Section “TierneyLab” blog, to name just a handful. Of critical importance, each piece has been effusive in its support of a carbon tax. As we were posting this newsletter, the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute weighed in with an extraordinarily cogent report comparing a carbon tax with cap-and-trade that unambiguously backs carbon taxing as “the superior policy option.”
These testimonials are collected on our Supporters and Tax vs. Cap pages. The L.A. Times editorial is especially noteworthy. The sole editorial in the May 28 (Sunday) edition, the 1,600-word Time To Tax Carbon made as resounding a case for a carbon tax – both in preference to cap-and-trade and for its capacity to stimulate carbon-reducing investment and innovation – as we’ve seen. Here’s one passage:
A carbon tax simply imposes a tax for polluting based on the amount emitted, thus encouraging polluters to clean up and entrepreneurs to come up with alternatives. The tax is constant and predictable. It doesn’t require the creation of a new energy trading market, and it can be collected by existing state and federal agencies. It’s straightforward and much harder to manipulate by special interests than the politicized process of allocating carbon credits.
Reading manifestos like this, it’s hard to resist the feeling that a shift is underway from cap-and-trade to a carbon tax. Indeed, a few days after the L.A. Times ran its editorial, an editor at a popular environmental blog wrote to say:
It’s been a slow process of education for me. What brought me around to my pro-tax position is, ironically, my libertarian streak. The essential libertarian insight is that complexity and bureaucracy are invitations to corruption. Big business will try their best to game the system. We know that. Politicians will be subject to lobbying and financial support. We know that. So the best route is the one that minimizes complexity and bureaucracy.
Since the biggest rap against a carbon tax has been its lack of popular support, “conversions” to the carbon tax camp such as that above could have a snowball effect, as each new adherent makes success more plausible. Part of our job at the Carbon Tax Center is to help the world see how rapidly the snowball is growing. We hope to have more to report in future newsletters.
CTC’s Visibility Continues to Grow
- CTC co-director Dan Rosenblum appeared on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer – a substantive interview enabling Dan to make the case for a carbon tax to an aware nationwide audience. Click here to see the interview.
- Articles by CTC co-director Charles Komanoff in Gristmill,
Common Dreams, and Conde Nast’s Portfolio.com,
along with quotes in the New York Times and the Detroit Free Press.
- We surpassed Wikipedia to become the leading site on Google for those searching “carbon tax.” CTC’s Web site, www.carbontax.org continues to
receive almost 1,000 visits each week from across the USA as well as Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Other CTC Highlights from April and May:
We are continuing to provide technical and logistical support to advocates organizing for state-level carbon taxes in Colorado, Washington State, New York State and California. We have greatly improved our state-level spreadsheet model for estimating the CO2 reductions and revenue generation from different levels of carbon taxes. The model now allows for time lags in demand response, and it reflects supply-side incentives (toward lower-carbon fuels and power generation) as well as demand-side conservation. We hope to “grow” the model to the national level and post it on our Web site soon.
The next two years
will be the crucial period during which competing policies to reduce carbon emissions will be examined for their effectiveness, cost and political viability. CTC’s strategic goals focus on shaping that debate and properly framing the issues by:
- Working with environmental organizations and other allies to solidify support for the concept of “putting a price on carbon.”
- Educating opinion leaders, grassroots organizations and decision-makers that while cap-and-trade is also a vehicle to put a price on carbon, carbon taxes are far superior because they provide a more predictable and less volatile price and are transparent, immediate, universal and equitable.
We anticipate engaging in these activities during 2007-2008:
- Continuing to develop intellectual ammunition on key issues including revenue recycling, tax equity, “co-benefits” of a carbon tax (e.g., for national security), and the potential “bang” for each carbon tax “buck.”
- Providing technical assistance to opinion leaders, grassroots organizations and decision-makers, including
responding to requests for technical information from political campaigns.
- Assisting local and state-level carbon tax initiatives.
- Spearheading a sign-on statement by economists and other experts calling a tax on carbon emissions more effective, transparent and equitable than a carbon cap-and-trade regime.
- Working with a broad coalition of interest groups (labor, environmental, economic justice, national security, etc.) to support carbon taxes through a national sign-on statement and other actions.
It’s clear that CTC is proving its effectiveness every day. But we can’t continue to play our essential role without your financial help. We heartily thank those of you who have already donated to CTC. We ask carbon tax supporters who are not yet
CTC contributors to become so today.
You can contribute to CTC in three ways, of which two are tax-deductible:
Write a check or money order to ELPC (Environmental Law & Policy Center), writing Carbon Tax Center in the memo line; mail it to ELPC at 35 East Wacker Drive, Suite 1300, Chicago, IL 60601. ELPC is CTC’s fiscal sponsor.
- Tax-deductible :
Make an on-line contribution via Groundspring by clicking on the DONATE NOW box on our website, www.carbontax.org.
- Not deductible:
Write a check or money order to Carbon Tax Center and send it to our New York City mailing address: CTC,
636 Broadway, Room 602, New York, NY 10012.
Just as a carbon tax now will send climate-appropriate price signals to businesses and individuals and help lock in low-carbon investment for the long haul, your financial support today will enable CTC to build on our current successes and
chart a growth trajectory. Please be as generous as you can, and please donate today. Thank you.
Daniel W. Rosenblum