Hurricane Sandy put climate change back in the political conversation, but at the moment, actual action looks unlikely. Yes, during his victory speech last week, President Obama said that he would take action on reducing emissions, but the administration has yet to put a proposal on the table. There was some hope — among liberals — that a tax on carbon could be part of a “grand bargain” related to the fiscal cliff. Rather than raising tax rates, the government would place a tax on emissions, which would both incentivize green technology and raise needed revenue. But as the Hill reports, Republicans have absolutely no interest in going down that road:
The entire House GOP leadership team has registered its opposition to climate legislation that raises revenue, underscoring the long odds that taxing carbon emissions has in negotiations on the fiscal cliff.
The Tea Party group Americans for Prosperity greeted Wednesday’s election of the House GOP leadership team by pointing out that the lawmakers are among the signers of the group’s “no climate tax” pledge. …
“Carbon taxes are once again being floated as a way to raise revenue so that Washington can skip the hard work of actually getting runaway entitlement spending under control,” said James Valvo, policy director of the group, which is backed by the Koch brothers, who are active in conservative politics.
It’s not hard to imagine why Republicans would oppose a tax on carbon; the GOP has close ties to the oil and gas companies whose interests would be harmed by a nationwide move to reduce carbon emissions. What’s more, given the regressivity of a carbon tax, it’s likely that Democrats would attempt to offset the effect on lower- and middle-income Americans by implementing new spending programs. What’s more, there’s no guarantee that a carbon tax would preclude a tax hike on the wealthiest Americans down the road.
Still, I think there’s a good reason for conservatives to support a carbon tax or something like it: The United States will see more hurricanes like Sandy, and eventually the government will move to take serious action on climate change. With a carbon tax off the table, new regulatory action becomes inevitable, with greater government intervention in the economy. This isn’t a hypothetical; when new taxes or direct spending is blocked as a means of implementing policy, the result is almost always a confusing, expensive and inefficient patchwork of regulations, mandates, and tax expenditures (see: the Affordable Care Act).
If conservatives believe that they can prevent any action on climate change indefinitely, then they should continue their opposition to a carbon tax or any other market-based mechanism for dealing with emissions. But if they have the slightest doubts, they would do well to open themselves to the possibility. All things being equal, it’s much better to conservative interests for the government to implement a tax and walk away, rather than develop a new scheme for regulation.