We launched the Carbon Tax Center seventeen months ago to inform and engage the public about the need for and benefits of revenue-neutral carbon taxation. Coincidentally, that same week the United States Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of mainstream environmental organizations, major electricity generators and giant industrial corporations, announced its formation and legislative agenda: a federal carbon cap-and-trade system. To state the obvious, USCAP has a lot more money and political clout than we do. Not surprisingly, USCAP managed to buy a tremendous amount of press and political support for its cap-and-trade program.
Our strategy at CTC has been simple. We provide an objective source of carbon tax and cap-and-trade related facts, economic arguments and news. We let the public know about the broad support for a carbon tax from economists and opinion leaders across the political spectrum. We were confident the public and Congress would eventually recognize that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is far superior to cap-and-trade for a variety of efficiency and equity reasons that we set forth in an issue paper on our Web site and in a variety of debates and other forums. We expected that Americans would see that the cap-and-trade scheme proposed in bills such as Lieberman-Warner is essentially a tax, with the revenue doled out to special interests. We were betting that once cap-and-trade was revealed as a hidden tax proposal, its putative political advantage over a straightforward carbon tax would vanish.
Events are proving us right. Cap-and-trade’s aura of inevitability evaporated in the U.S. Senate this month. Why? Because, just as we predicted, Senators balked at the cap-and-trade bill’s complexity, its windfall profits for carbon polluters and the feeding frenzy to distribute the revenues in classic pork-barrel fashion.
We don’t buy the notion that in rejecting cap-and-trade, the Senate is defying the public outcry for an effective response to global warming. As John Tierney wrote in his New York Times science blog, “Maybe a better deal — and a better policy — will emerge from this failure.” Tierney emphasized that James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who has been so outspoken on the imminence of global warming, now backs a “tax-and-dividend approach” with carbon revenues “divided equally, so that people who use less energy than average — like lower-income people — would get back more than they spend.” As Tierney pointed out, “Refunding money directly removes the temptation for Congress to treat … carbon-reduction revenues as a chance to dispense trillions of dollars worth of favors — as proposed in last week’s bill, which was aptly dubbed ‘pork-and-trade.’”
Sound familiar? It should. Hansen’s proposal is the same revenue-neutral carbon tax the Carbon Tax Center has been urging all along. In fact, if you’ve been keeping up with our posts you may have noticed that CTC adopted the tax-and-dividend terminology several weeks ago, a switch we picked up from Peter Barnes’ excellent work on cap-and-dividend.
Meanwhile, as readers of our posts and our “Latest News” headlines surely know, the real action on revenue-neutral carbon pricing is in Canada. Liberal Party Leader Stéphane Dion has transformed the climate debate in Canada with his proposal for a $15.4 billion, 4-year “Green Shift.” Read our post on the subject for a quick summary, the Green Shift Handbook for the details and our “Latest News” for reaction to the Green Shift in Canada and around the world. And on Tuesday (July 1), British Columbia inaugurates the Western Hemisphere’s first substantial and comprehensive carbon tax — a day after it distributes dividend checks from the revenue-neutral tax to households and businesses.
A tremendous opportunity awaits. The failure of the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade scheme has created a huge opening for a better and more workable method for putting a price on carbon. Splits within USCAP have re-emerged. In a powerful speech on June 25, Lewis Hays, III, Chairman and CEO of FPL Group (a member of USCAP), reiterated his support for a carbon fee stating, “[T]he simplest and most effective way to price carbon is with a continuously escalating fee – or a ‘tax’ as the big carbon emitters like to call it. Under a carbon fee that starts modestly and rises steadily over time, companies will find it more and more expensive to use dirty fuels.”
To take advantage of the opportunity and to capitalize on the post-election window in which new policy ideas can command serious attention, the Carbon Tax Center is organizing a conference in Washington, D.C. this November. Our goals are to:
- increase public awareness of the environmental and economic advantages of a carbon tax over other policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
- place carbon taxes higher on the U.S. Congressional agenda;
- enable carbon tax advocates to forge connections with one another:
- address obstacles (political, economic, and scientific) to enacting a U.S. carbon tax, and to discuss the ideal form of such a tax;
- recognize leaders who have publicly advocated a U.S. carbon tax; and
- discuss lessons learned from the Green Shift proposal in Canada.
We are assembling a terrific roster of speakers and participants. James Hansen has already agreed to speak, and we anticipate many more leading voices on climate change and carbon pricing.
We need your financial help to make our conference happen and to continue our essential work. Please click here to find out how to contribute to CTC. [Note: the foregoing link replaces the original instructions for contributing in this post, which no longer apply.]
Please be as generous as you can, and please donate today. Thank you.