The Conservative Case for Carbon Taxes

Panel in Seattle moderated by Sightline.
This post is part of the research project: Putting a Price on Carbon

This week, Sightline Fellow Yoram Bauman will moderate a panel that should prove fascinating: “Changing What We Tax: Prospects for a Free-enterprise Solution to Energy Security and Climate Change.”

It’s a joint event put on by one national conservative group, the Energy and Enterprise Institute and one state group, the Washington Policy Center. The speakers will include Bob Inglis, a Republican and former Congressman from South Carolina; Todd Myers, director of WPC’s environmental program; and Mike Wallace, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington.

Details here:

Date: Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
Time: 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Place: Room 109, Otto Miller Hall, Seattle Pacific University, 301 W. Ewing Street, Seattle, Washington.

Bob Inglis is certainly one of the most fascinating people in American politics right now. A bona fide conservative Republican who served multiple terms in Congress representing South Carolina, he’s also been a vocal and articulate climate hawk, one who urges fellow conservatives to hew to the facts of climate science and to embrace carbon pricing as an opportunity to reform national tax policy. You can get a taste of that with this video:

The possibility for action, still remote, seems to be getting louder among conservatives. Slate and Reuters are wondering out loud whether a carbon tax could be part of a “grand bargain” to avert the so-called fiscal cliff in 2013.

Then just today, the Washington Post editorial board actually endorsed a carbon tax dedicated to deficit reduction.

And tomorrow, the conservative American Enterprise Institute is hosting a day-long conference on the economics of carbon taxes. (They will post the full video of the day’s events later this week.)

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  1. Steve Erickson says:

    There isn’t a very strong nexus between dedicating all of the revenue to deficit reduction and actually impacting GHG emissions.

    I suggest:

    1. Make the Carbon tax escalate based on the increase in atmospheric CO2. For example, start at $30 per ton and increase it at the rate of $2 for every 1 ppm rise in atmospheric CO2. Tying the rate to the actual increase just makes sense – it provides a direct feedback that is easy to understand. Since the US isn’t solely responsible for the increase, a fallback position would be to use a multiplier of the proportion of the increase that is attributable to US emissions, though that gets into endless arguments about sequestration, off-shoring emissions, etc.

    2. Allocate the revenue based on gaining political buy-in and actually reducing emissions (beyond simply providing a market signal).
    a. Rebate. Rebate to consumers a significant enough proportion of the added cost to reduce the sting while still providing a strong incentive for further reduction. Note that this is not the same as an income tax rebate. Make it simple. Send in your fossil fuel receipts, get a rebate. Perhaps 40% of the revenue.
    b. R & D. Dedicate a significant proportion to R & D. Not simply single or several year periods, but a steady fund. Perhaps 10% of the revenue.
    c. Building Retrofit Trust Fund. Go for the easiest actual reductions, building retrofits for conservation and efficiency. Not limited to just poor people, office buildings, or industrial structures. Aim for a scale of millions of structures, with retrofits financed by low or zero interest loans. The “free market” has obviously failed at doing this. There are obviously huge spinoffs in employment. The time it will take to scale up allows the trust fund to build to a significant amount (i.e. $billions). Perhaps 30% of the revenue.
    d. Deficit reduction. Necessary for political buy-in for sane Republicans (assuming there are still some out there) ideologically, as well as providing cover for them to back into addressing global warming. Perhaps 20% of the revenue.

    Now, does anyone have a magic wand I can borrow for a day?

  2. Michelle Parker says:

    No magic wand, but maybe some magic words… I’m thinking that calling it, more specifically, a “carbon POLLUTION tax” would draw greater public interest (and support) for it.

    Thoughts, anybody?

  3. Anirudh Sahni says:

    This was a superb panel discussion! I left with a better understanding of conservative thinking on climate change and more optimism about the prospects for sensible policy changes. Thanks for the announcement.

  4. Paul Birkeland says:

    Sorry I missed it. But we definitely need to make a carbon tax part of the ‘fiscal cliff’ discussions NOW! It is a real winner from a revenue perspective, and, as shown here, even some Republicans are talking about it. Check out our petition at And spread the word.

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