Carbon Tax

House GOP leaders recently confirmed again what I wrote last week: There isn’t going to be a carbon tax in the next two years or, probably, for as long as the GOP controls the House. I’ve been asked by a few climate types, “Why not spend your time pushing for it rather than poo-pooing its chances?” It’s a reasonable question. The answer, I suppose, is that I do not regard it with the same reverence as many economists and climate hawks.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome a substantial, well-designed carbon tax. But is it the sine qua non of climate policy, the standard against which all climate solutions are measured and for which any sacrifice is justified? No. Those who support a carbon tax over cap-and-trade often tout its simplicity, but the fact is, there are plenty of ways to screw up a climate tax too. Not everything that goes under the name is worthy of support, especially if it’s achieved at the expense of other liberal or green priorities. And given the current political milieu, it’s likely that any carbon tax that did manage to pass would be a bum deal for America’s poor and middle class. (Actually, that’s probably true for anything that passes, period.)