The carbon plan of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is considerably lamer — and more transparently a poison pill — than early reports suggested. So I strongly disagree with Chris Dodd, Friends of the Earth, and Gristmill’s Charles Komanoff, who all applaud the bill. Here’s why.
First, as Dingell himself has said, he wanted to design a bill with maximum pain to prove to everyone how unpalatable greenhouse gas mitigation is (see below). Why else include a pointless $0.50 gasoline tax on top of the carbon tax? Dingell actually has a double agenda here — to torpedo climate legislation and a toughening of CAFE at once. Taxes are unpopular enough — but two of them? Come on! We’ve seen gasoline prices jump two dollars a gallon in recent years, with little impact on usage. What would another 50 cents do, except piss people off? It would never make the final bill, and Dingell knows it.
Second, Dingell “phases out the mortgage interest on primary mortgages on houses over 3,000 square feet.” But why? Here is the lame answer:
These homes have contributed to increased sprawl and longer commutes. Despite new homes in and of themselves being more energy efficient, the sheer size, sprawl and commutes lead to dramatically more energy use — or to put it more simply, a larger carbon footprint.
Sprawl and longer commutes? Seriously? Even if sprawl and longer commutes were caused by large homes, it is at best an indirect (or second-order) effect. And the impact of changing the mortgage deduction on the size of homes would itself probably be second-order, so the overall impact of his sure-to-be unpopular proposal would be small — and slow. We need more direct policies.
If you want to do something about sprawl/commutes, then why not support location-efficient mortgages instead of attacking the most popular tax deduction in the country? And if you want to reduce the energy impact of homes — indeed, of all buildings — why not put in tough national home-building energy codes modeled around California’s Title 24?
But Dingell’s proposal gets even more absurd. Consider this bizarre exemption:
Exemptions for home owners who purchase carbon offsets to make home carbon neutral or own homes that are certified carbon neutral.
Well, everyone would buy some cheap offsets and get this exemption — since that would certainly be far less expensive than losing the mortgage deduction. We should be trying to promote energy-efficient, low-carbon homes, not dubious carbon offsets. Who is going to certify carbon neutrality anyway?
So instead of a good building code and location-efficient mortgages, we get rich people planting some trees (don’t get me started) — or maybe enhancing oil recovery! — and building the same home in the same place anyway.
This is not a serious proposal. Give me a cap-and-trade plus CAFE any day.
Dingell claims, “We must remember we all have a common goal and are in this fight together.” A C-SPAN interview from July gives the lie to that claim. As E&E Daily wrote at the time (subs. req’d):
Dingell said he believes there is consensus among Americans on global warming, but he rejected the notion that the public would accept major new costs. “I sincerely doubt that the American people are willing to pay what this is really going to cost them,” he said.
As such, Dingell intends to float proposals that amount to a pair of stalking horses on the matter. “I will be introducing, in the next little bit, a carbon tax bill just to sort of see how people really feel about this,” he said in the interview, adding it would be a 50 cent gasoline tax and a “very substantial” tax on carbon emissions …
“When you see the criticism I get, you will understand that you will be getting the answer to your question,” he said in response to a question about Americans’ willingness to pay higher prices.
Yeah, we all have a common goal and are in this fight together — assuming, of course, your goal is to obstruct action and you are fighting against tougher CAFE standards …