Carbon tax should be no joke

October 21, 2009

The most plausible aspect of this week’s U.S. Chamber of Commerce hoax was not the spot-on (but phony) email blast or web page or press conference created by The Yes Men, a guerrilla performance group.

No, what really seemed to have the ring of truth was the purported change of political positions by the Chamber on the issue of climate change policy.

Recall what the faux Chamber spokesman, one “Hingo Sembra”, told duped reporters: “We believe the Kerry-Boxer Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act is a good start towards strong legislation (and) should include a stiff carbon tax and correspondingly strong incentives for industries we wish to foster. A carbon tax means less need for legislating by Congress, a surer business environment for companies, and a simpler, competition-friendly mechanism for reducing carbon than the bill’s current cap-and-trade approach.”

(A spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce broke into Monday’s news conference, alerting media to the hoax, but Reuters and other outlets had already issued reports. Reuters issued a correction, withdrew the story and sent an advisory to readers.)

If the Chamber actually were to change or modify its official position in response to member discontent — PG&E, Apple, PNM Resources and Exelon have already departed — the Yes Men statement is a reasonable facsimile of how it would frame the switch. Offer some boilerplate praise of the Kerry-Boxer bill, but then push hard for a carbon tax as the preferred alternative.
The Yes Men got their economic wonkery correct. A carbon tax is the more elegant and market-friendly solution for limiting gas emissions thought by many scientists to be altering earth’s climate.

Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan, Gary Becker, Arthur Laffer, Jeffrey Sachs, and Nouriel Roubini are among the notable economists in favor of one. So too the Congressional Budget Office: “A tax on emissions would be the most efficient incentive-based option for reducing emissions and could be relatively easy to implement.”

The only fictional detail The Yes Men left out was having the Chamber insist that the carbon tax be revenue neutral, perhaps having the revenues offset payroll taxes or income taxes. “Tax what you burn, not what you earn,” as Al Gore puts it.

Actually, it’s kind of surprising that the Chamber hasn’t already come out in favor of a carbon tax, given the growing green interests of many of its members and its own stated belief in human-induced climate change.

Favoring greater energy efficiency and technology investment seem politically and economically necessary but altogether insufficient these days.

That is certainly the considered calculus of Republican House members Jeff Flake and Bob Inglis, die-hard conservatives who have proposed a revenue-neutral carbon tax. They also make the case that cap-and-trade would be a bureaucratic boondoggle and special-interest giveaway.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a carbon tax? It really shouldn’t be a joke.

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Exactly! Republicans and Democrats alike should support a revenue-neutral carbon tax. It’s time to put good public policy ahead of political expediency; it’s time to take a serious look at what scientists, economists and opinion leaders all over the world agree is the best solution to catastrophic global climate change: a revenue-neutral carbon tax. It would benefit the environment measurably more than cap and trade, incentivize green R&D AND return the revenue to the people. It’s a win for the environment, a win for the economy and a win for the American family.

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