A Conservative-Progressive Carbon Tax Plot?

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Conspiracy? What conspiracy?

Representatives from the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and a number of environmentalist activist groups met behind closed doors yesterday apparently for the fifth time to plot the imposition of a carbon tax as a way to address man-made global warming, claims the Competitive Enterprise Institute's (CEI) director of energy and global warming policy Myron Ebell. In a post to a conservative listserv Ebell asserted:

From 1:30-5 PM on Wednesday, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a hitherto secret meeting to discuss how to enact a carbon tax in a lame duck session this fall or perhaps in the 113th Congress….

We defeated capntrade in 2009-10 by convincing the American public that it was really capntax. Twenty-odd House Democrats who voted for Waxman-Markey lost their seats. The Democratic Senate refused to take it up. It's political poison, so naturally the more brain-dead parts of the Republican and big business establishment have decided how clever it would be to resurrect the carbon tax and push it as an alternative to regulation. I don't notice anything in the AEI agenda about repealing the greenhouse gas emissions standards as part of the deal. Why don't we do that first? Then we can talk about alternative policies—if any.

Also, note the idea that a deal could be done so that a carbon tax would be offset by reductions in other taxes and would therefore be revenue neutral. There are multiple problems with the idea of revenue neutrality. First, it never works. A new tax will quickly be raised. Second, the poorer people are, the higher the percentage of their income that goes for energy. Poor people already don't pay much or any income tax. So a consumption tax offset by, for example, cuts in the corporate income tax rate, would be highly regressive. Third, the only way a carbon tax would reduce fossil fuel consumption and thus greenhouse gas emissions is if it's set quite high. And the only way a carbon tax will raise much revenue is if it's set quite high. Thus they must be advocating European levels of taxation. Say $5 dollars a gallon of gasoline. Roughly $500 per ton of coal (which is currently selling for $65 a ton at most).

We must kill this incredibly harmful idea as quickly as possible.

The agenda supplied by Ebell indicated that the first session of the meeting was devoted to an "Update on posture of key constituencies." The first panel apparently looked at Congressional Republicans, Romney and Business Leaders with the aim of "Detoxifying climate policy for conservatives." Listed discussants were AEI's Kevin Hassett; Dave Jenkins, Vice President of Government and Political Affairs at ConservAmerica; and Eli Lehrer, President of the R Street Institute.

A second panel reviewed the stands of various Progressive/Social Justice groups and included discussants, Danielle Deane, Director of Energy and Environment Program, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; Tyson SlocumDirector of Energy Program, Public Citizen; and Chad Stone, Chief Economist, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The third panel focused on the views of Economists and Deficit Hawks. Discussants were listed as Autumn Hannah, Senior Program Director, Taxpayers for Common Sense; Aparna Mathur, AEI resident scholar; Diane Lim Rogers, chief economist, Concord Coalition; Rob Shapiro, ex- U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs under President Bill Clinton and currently chairman of the U.S. Climate Task Force.

The second session listed on the agenda was devoted to "Framing and Selling a Carbon Pollution Tax."  Kevin Curtis, Program Director of Al Gore's Climate Reality Project and Board member of the Climate Action Network offered initial thoughts on a post-election public opinion and education campaign. Next, prominent DC lobbyist and former Democratic member of Congress Tom Downey evidently talked about building bipartisan support for a carbon tax proposal and navigating the Ways and Means process in Congress. The final panel consisted of Ian Parry, Technical Assistance Advisor in the IMF's Fiscal Affairs Department; Rob Williams, Senior Fellow and Director, Academic Programs at Resources for the Future;  and Adele Morris, Policy Director for the Climate and Energy Economics Project at the Brookings Institution. They talked about honing the case for a carbon pollution tax. 

I reached out to AEI for a reaction, and AEI Director of Public Affairs Veronique Rodman offered this official response:

In recent years, AEI has been accused of being both in the pocket of energy companies and organizing to advocate a carbon tax.  Neither is true.  AEI has been, and will continue to be, an intellectually curious place, where products aren't influenced by interested parties, and ideas from all are welcome in seeking solutions for difficult public policy problems.

Rodman also explained that AEI has absolutely no institutional position with regard to a carbon tax. She added that AEI scholars have the intellectual freedom to explore whatever public policy ideas that they find of interest.

On its face, there is nothing wrong with people of good will who disagree about the scope and urgency of a public policy problem getting together to talk about their differences and how they might be bridged. Among other things, Ebell is expressing a generalized fear held by some conservatives that progressives will dupe clueless well-meaning conservatives into meeting them halfway and then turn around and demand more concessions.

Ebell is certainly right that the new and highly inefficient greenhouse gas emissions restrictions being imposed by the EPA should be repealed. But assuming that man-made global warming is or will become a significant problem, how might it be addressed? I review four options in my 2009 article, What's the Best Way to Handle Future Climate Change? They are: cap-and-trade; a carbon tax; techno-solutions; and economic growth. At the end of that article, I conclude:

…it is surely not unreasonable to argue that if one wants to help future generations deal with climate change, the best policies would be those that encourage rapid economic growth. This would endow future generations with the wealth and superior technologies that could be used to handle whatever comes at them including climate change. In other words, one could argue that, in order to truly address the problem of climate change, responsible policy makers … should select courses of action that move humanity from a slow growth trajectory to a high growth trajectory, especially for the poorest developing countries.

Finally, perhaps one additional item might be included on a future AEI agenda: Is Government Action Worse than Climate Change?

For more of CEI's take on the contretemps go here.

NEXT: Mitt Romney vs. Free Stuff

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  1. AEI has been, and will continue to be, an intellectually curious place, where products aren’t influenced by interested parties, and ideas from all are welcome in seeking solutions for difficult public policy problems.

    It may take a lot of searching, but conservative groups will always eventually find the wrong side of any issue.

  2. A carbon tax isn’t going to happen. Any politician who pushes for it will get crushed at their next election. Even Obama isn’t making noises about it. I guess the carbon tax pushers didn’t pay him off.

    1. If Republicans in the House voted a carbon tax in a lame duck session, it would be the end of the Republican party. Even those losers are no that stupid.

  3. Unless it’s globally adopted, or somehow applied at the consumption end, a carbon tax will be yet another reason for capital to flee to countries without a carbon tax, to the detriment of the American economy.

    1. And, of course, to the extent that capital does flee, the carbon tax doesn’t stop global pollution, it just relocates it.

      1. See: China, coal power plants.

        1. See: China, everything.

          The EPA puts American steel companies out of business with ever increasing pollution controls. The Chinese buy the plant equipment, don’t bother to take even the basic pollution scrubbers and set them up at home.

          So a plant that was scrubbing 99% of the pollutants, and couldn’t afford to take that to 99.9%, relocates around the world, and goes back to spewing 100% of the pollutants possible.

          1. Only intentions matter, dude. Results, not so much.

          2. needs moar [UNIONZ] 1!!11!!!!11

    2. I would not be surprised if one day America starts bombing countries because they have no carbon tax. I already see the future internet debates where the one side says its justified to bomb country X because not having a carbon tax is savage, and savages must be bombed, and it will save the planet.

  4. Ebell is expressing a generalized fear held by some conservatives that progressives will dupe clueless well-meaning conservatives into meeting them halfway and then turn around and demand more concessions.

    That is exactly what they always do. Washington Conservatives are just pathetic. Why do you losers care so much about liberals liking you? I just don’t get it. Why would you boot lick people who hold you in complete and total disdain? Fuck liberals. Get it through your head beltway conservatives, liberals hate you, are not well meaning, and will never like you.

    1. That’s not it, John. It’s because, at the end of the day, they’re all statists. The TEAM RED people are able to be convinced to do statist things by the TEAM BLUE people because they’re actually sympathetic to the statism of TEAM BLUE. Very sympathetic. Because statism means power…for all of them.

      1. Perhaps. They all love to be on the front page of the NYT and called statesman like or historic. Everyone in the entire damn town dreams of nothing more than a program named after them. Leave a legacy. That is why they only create shit and spend and never end anything. The whole lot of them needs to be shot.

        1. I can’t argue with that, John.

  5. They’d better get it done quick. Even the trolls in the /. comments were having trouble with the new comprehensive tree ring study. It may have entered a few of their minds that Deniers may not be the Galileos and not the Catholic Church in their analogy.

    Full Disclosure: I maintain that tree rings make terrible proxies and unless the methodologies have changed significantly, they have little statistical value on figuring out what the historic climate actually was. Stupid principles won’t let me do a celebratory dance.

    1. why bother w tree rings when geology clearly proves 6 iceages und 6 melt-offs w the most recent just 12k yrs ago?

      1. Because I actually do care what, if any, effects large and long term dumping of hot CO2 into the environment has. Its interesting to me. I just happen to think that it is a secondary or tertiary effect (ie, swamped by the natural effects).

        Ideally, I’d like to see the science disaggregated from the people who are trying to propel themselves to power with it, then find out what the effects are during the current interglacial period.

  6. What’s intellectually curious about AEI is that, kowtowing to its clientele, it threw out the scientists along with the fact checkers a decade ago.

    Little wonder AEI’s minions have a weather eye on their pensions as they slouch towards the Appomattox of the Climate Wars.

  7. I look at that agenda, and the attendees, and I think the conclusion is inescapable that this organization is trying to get a carbon tax passed. Even the innocuous “Detoxifying” item sounds to me like the PR scheme for carbon taxation, not the PR scheme for defeating carbon taxation without getting beat up by the lefty media.

    1. And.. up goes the article on libertarians for taxes. Good call.

  8. [Promoting economic growth] would endow future generations with the wealth and superior technologies that could be used to handle whatever comes at them including climate change.

    There are a couple of problems with this:

    1. I wasn’t aware “soak the rich” was now a Reason policy recommendation.

    2. The first-and-hardest-hit victims of climate change don’t live in places where Western pro-growth policies are likely to help. Simplifying the tax code is a great idea, but it’s not going to help a Maldivian whose island has disappeared or an Ethiopian whose village was swallowed by the Sahara Desert.

    3. Projections continue to be raised for future warming. I’ve read as high as 11 Fahrenheit by 2100, but long before that (6-7 F), agriculture more or less collapses. We’re looking at the genuine possibility of extinguishing civilization. Because that level of catastrophe is now genuinely possible, we should be more cautious rather than less. You can’t say, “My bad, agricultural civilization! Do over!”

    1. “I’ve read as high as 11 Fahrenheit by 2100, but long before that (6-7 F), agriculture more or less collapses. “

      That’s crap. You’d get 2 growing seasons farther north than anything we have no. Russian wheat production would finally be somewhere near the totals the Soviets used to make up. Plants aren’t going to stop growing unless rainfall collapses.

      1. There’s a lot more hogwash than just that.

        The models have been nothing but completely fucking wrong. Citing said models for yet more doom and gloom isn’t like to come with a more accurate result.

        1. In 1988, James Hansen predicted the world would warm, and that it would warm according to a specific pattern. That pattern included nights warming faster than days and winter faster than summer, cooling upper atmosphere, warming lower atmosphere, and faster warming in the Arctic than anywhere else. The 24 years of data collection since have proven each of these predictions right. He overestimated the warming magnitude by ~25% because he overestimated emissions growth.

          Frankly, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.

          1. He said that parts of Manhattan would be underwater by now.

      2. The tropics would be more or less uninhabitable. All of the agriculture and people there would have to be moved to colder areas. With that, you’d need new irrigation schemes and new strains of crops to deal with the new growing areas (which have more extremes of night and day). Also, much of the soil in permafrost areas is not terribly fertile.

        As for rainfall collapse, higher temps mean both catastrophic droughts and catastrophics floods, and greatly reduced “nice weather”. We’re beginning to see these sorts of problems already.

        1. How many species will be extinct by 2100? 50%? I think that was the Hansen prediction.

    2. Reiterating my comment from yesterday, why the hell do people always talk about average temps, when it’s temperature variance that is the real threat?

  9. Be sure to check out CEI’s original post here: http://www.globalwarming.org/2…..arbon-tax/

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