Rep. Jim McDermott

Rep. Jim McDermott has a carbon-tax bill that he’d like you to know about.

All of a sudden, there’s a lot of talk in Washington, D.C., about a carbon tax, even among some conservatives.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) was ahead of the curve on this one. The long-serving liberal rep from the Seattle area introduced a carbon-tax bill in August, anticipating this very moment, when the “fiscal cliff” would be looming and everyone would be scrambling for some kind deal on taxes and the budget.

McDermott’s Managed Carbon Price Act [PDF], a revision of a bill he first introduced in 2009, would tax energy producers at the extraction point — when coal is mined, say — and gradually ramp up that tax with the aim of reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels within 42 years. That would generate a lot of revenue. The bill would dedicate 25 percent of it to deficit reduction and refund the other 75 percent to citizens to help them offset rising energy costs, though McDermott says he’s open to other ideas from colleagues about how best to allocate the money.

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The bill is a long shot — a very long long shot — but apparently it’s now looking feasible enough that right-wingers are feeling compelled to bash it. In the last few weeks, conservative commentators have taken to The Washington Times (twice), The Daily Caller, and to inveigh not just against a carbon tax but against McDermott’s bill specifically. At this point, the bill is getting more attention from the right wing than from the left.

McDermott isn’t naive about the chances of his bill passing anytime soon, as he told me when we chatted about it in September, but he wants it to be part of the conversation. He’s planning to reintroduce the legislation in the next Congress. Here’s more of what he had to say about the bill and the climate crisis:

On a carbon tax vs. a cap-and-trade system

I never liked cap-and-trade. Back in 2009, I voted for the thing [the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill], but I always thought a carbon tax was a much better way to go.

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The oil companies would much rather have this than some carbon cap-and-trade with things going up and down on Wall Street and derivatives and all this kind of craziness that we just got out of in the housing market.

The cap-and-trade experiment in Europe is somewhat less than successful.

On what a carbon tax would do

It’s a long-term planning tool for energy change in this country away from carbon.

Let’s start forcing people to deal with what the cost of energy really is. We have $4-a-gallon gasoline, and we’re complaining about it. But if we put in all the costs of gasoline, all the military spending over in the Middle East protecting our oil tankers, all that stuff, our gasoline would be $8 a gallon. So my view is that we have too long hidden from the American public what the real cost of things is. Because we shift it off onto the government and somehow hide it that way, and then we yell at the government for being too big. Well, guess what: You’re using a lot of this to hide the cost of gasoline. So my view is it’s really a more honest way of going about dealing with energy.

If you could establish the carbon tax, you then set in motion the real basis for the green revolution. My view is that the things the president tried to do with green energy, putting tax credits out there for wind and solar and all this stuff, it was good to do, but in some ways they were a cart before the horse. The carbon tax will be an admission by the Congress that there’s a problem. When they’ve admitted there’s a problem, now what do we do to solve the problem? It would be a lot easier to put those bills in.

On how long it takes to implement tax reform

Reagan was elected in 1980; tax reform didn’t pass until ’86. Six years. And there was a lot of golf playing and smoking cigars and drinking whiskey and telling jokes between Reagan and Tip O’Neill and Bill Bradley and Danny Rostenkowski, and it took them that long to trust each other to do it. And we’re gonna have to go through a period of trust-building.

So it isn’t gonna happen right away. But it is gonna happen. I’m sure there will be some kind of tax reform. And in that tax reform, I’d like to have a carbon bill.


Read more on the topic:
What the heck is a carbon tax?
Al Gore calls for a carbon tax
David Roberts argues that there’s not gonna be a carbon tax