The Washington Post editorial board calls a carbon tax “one of the best ideas in Washington almost no one in Congress will talk about.” It joins a very diverse group (including conservative economists, big oil companies, environmental advocates, and most Americans) that thinks pricing carbon pollution is smart policy. People are talking about it, if you know where to listen.
First, there is some activity in Congress. The Senate Finance Committee released a white paper last month which recommended a carbon tax as a way to reduce the estimated $16 billion of foregone energy tax expenditures in 2013. Back in February, Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer introduced comprehensive climate legislation that would put a price on carbon pollution and invest in a renewable energy economy. Boxer, Chair of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, said she would move the bill through her committee and hopefully to the Senate floor this summer. Rep. Henry Waxman, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and Sen. Brian Schatz have also released a carbon price discussion draft for review.
However, given the last few years of congressional inaction, it would be surprising if the Senate passed legislation to put a price on carbon or the bill received bully pulpit support from the White House. Even more so if the House took it up. During the budget debate in March, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have made it more difficult to pass a carbon tax, though it did get majority support. The GOP House leadership, following the lead of Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party, signed a “no climate tax” pledge along with nearly 100 other House members. And new Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a written statement prior to his confirmation that the administration is not planning to propose a carbon tax, though its hard to believe President Obama would veto a bill containing one if it actually arrived at his desk.
That is a lot of strikes against a proposal, even by the standards of the barely-functioning U.S. political system. 90 percent of Americans support background checks on gun sales but that could not make it out of the Senate. So is a price on carbon completely dead? Or mostly dead?
Putting a price on carbon pollution is something that finds support in across the globe, and in some very unexpected places.
Large areas of the world have already put a price on carbon:
- 33 countries and 18 sub-national jurisdictions will price carbon in 2013. This comprises 850 million people and nearly a third of the global economy.
- An official in the Chinese Ministry of Finance said that the country was considering a price on carbon along with a market-based cap-and-trade system. China’s emissions are the largest in the world and if the nation put a well-designed price on carbon it would have a significant impact.
Support for pricing carbon pollution is surprisingly widespread in the U.S.:
- 67 percent of Americans would rather reduce the deficit via a carbon tax than through cutting government programs, according to a poll conducted last December. A revenue neutral carbon tax that would provide dividends back to taxpayers and invest in renewable energy received 70 percent support in the poll.
- Another poll by YouGov found 56 percent of Americans would prefer a carbon tax to help reduce the deficit. The poll used an interesting tool that allowed participants to try to balance the budget themselves, which led to more than half concluding that a carbon tax would be a good idea. (Another poll found less support if the revenue would only be used to pay for renewable energy initiatives, so the fiscal component is key to gaining wider support.)
Many businesses prefer taxing carbon pollution: