The Carbon Tax: Washington’s Latest Bad Idea, Oddly Shepherded by Republicans

In Washington, bad ideas are never in short supply.
July 5, 2013 • Commentary
This article appeared in Forbes​.com on July 5, 2013.

Every year, as temperatures approach their July peak, our greener friends trot out global warming horrors and even more horrible policies—witness President Obama’s recently proposed diktats. But this year it’s different, as some conservatives are pushing a oxymoronic “revenue neutral” carbon tax.

You’d think people in D.C. might learn from others. Just last month, precisely such a tax took down Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. She had succeeded Kevin Rudd, who was bounced out of office for his support of a cap‐​and‐​trade scheme. Rudd is now temporarily back, likely to be replaced when his Labour party pays the ultimate price for Gillard’s tax in September’s general election.

Washington’s version of political suicide is the brainchild of former Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC), who lost his primary by a 70–29 margin when he got global warming religion. He now heads the “Energy and Enterprise Initiative” at R Street Partners, a relatively new Washington think tank which split off from Chicago’s libertarian/​conservative Heartland Institute over their aggressive stance on climate change.

Inglis’ theory—you can’t make this kind of stuff up—is that his tax is going to be magically adopted by Congress in some type of grand deal during President Obama’s last year. Ask yourself: when was the last time the opposition party made big deals with a lame duck Administration?

Every polemic I have seen on the carbon tax—including Inglis’—particularly and specifically ignores recent global warming science in complete contravention of a mountain of evidence now accruing that global warming was dramatically over forecast by scientists who had every incentive to do just that. Furthermore, with regard to “revenue neutrality,’ the notion that gazillions of dollars will float through Washington “unmolested” (h/​t to Heritage’s David Kreutzer for that zinger) is as foolhardy as ignoring what is happening in climate science.

Ignoring the science means disregarding 14 separate experiments published in the scientific literature in the last two years, all showing that way too much global warming was forecast. The fact that there isn’t any temperature trend whatsoever in the last 16 years is forcing scientists to confront the reality that the carbon taxers are choosing to evade.

The failure of the forecasts of dramatic warming is systematic. A presentation in late June at the American Geophysical Union’s Washington meeting on climate science and policy, titled “Policy Implications of Climate Models on the Verge of Failure,” demonstrated that, using the normative rules of science, the forecasts presuming big warming must now be abandoned.

One can use the EPA’s own model (curiously, acronymed MAGICC) to assess the effects on global temperature of emissions reductions that would be caused by a carbon tax. Assuming outrageously high taxes that would reduce them by 83% (giving Americans the per‐​capita emissions of 1867), the amount of warming that would be prevented is too small to measure on the 50‐​year time scale. Anything less does even less.

Irrationalities like conservatives supporting something that cannot happen (a revenue‐​neutral energy tax) don’t arise in a vacuum, which prompts some speculation as to who is supplying the massive amount of money needed to propagandize something that seems so absurd.

A recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis, “Effects of a Carbon Tax on the Economy and the Environment” may include a clue. The report is pretty much boilerplate except for where it departs into a specific section on the implementation of the tax on coal producers:

“…analysts suggest that because the bulk of coal is used to generate electricity, emissions resulting from coal could be covered by taxing electricity generators on the basis of their actual emissions”.

Whose analysts?

Taxing coal at the point of electricity generation will be a decreasing expense to the industry (since EPA has pretty much outlawed any new coal‐​fired power plants), more than made up for by the bonanza of tax‐​free coal “leaking” from the highly‐​regulated U.S. to ports around the world.

Maybe this explains the sudden emergence of a bizarre carbon tax based on a completely irrational set of assumptions being aggressively pushed by an obscure think tank and a former congressman.

Or maybe it doesn’t. In Washington, bad ideas are never in short supply.

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