Monday, December 19, 2016

Rex Tillerson is on board with a carbon tax, so why aren’t climate activists?

By   /   December 14, 2016  /   11 Comments  @VermountWatchdog

Two states on opposite ends of the country are pondering the imposition of a carbon tax, ostensibly as a tool to fight climate change.

What’s happening in Washington and Vermont, though, is instructive in a lot of ways that have nothing to do with how much carbon is poured into the atmosphere.

Vermont is in the early stages. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group is hawking a $500 million a year carbon tax on producers that would dramatically increase retail prices for gasoline and home-heating oil, which would be at least partially offset by a tax credit and a sales tax reduction. The proposal could be considered by the state legislature next year.

But the state of Washington has already spoken. On Election Day voters rejected a revenue-neutral proposal that would have imposed new taxes on carbon while cutting the state sales tax, eliminating the business and occupation tax on manufacturers, and channeling money to low-income residents to offset the higher energy prices they will have to pay.

Left-wing climate activists hated this idea, and celebrated its defeat. Now they are planning their own initiative that rejects the balanced approach in favor of using a carbon tax to support crony renewable energy companies.

The reason the alarmists opposed revenue-neutral carbon taxes is because they don’t actually give a hoot about carbon taxes. They care about accumulating power. A revenue neutral tax didn’t help achieve that goal, so it was useless to them.

We know this by their own words. A recent Vox story on the debate in Washington state gave the game away by citing as a “model” for “climate successes” new California legislation that mandates a 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030. A 10-year old law law there previously required the state to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
If the goal is to reduce global temperatures, how are these successes? Temperatures are not decreasing because of these laws.
But the power of the state to regulate business and the lives of citizens is increasing, and crony allies like solar and wind are reaping rewards.
That’s the left’s definition of “success” – the imposition of a costly regulation or a tax that has absolutely no impact on the climate, but helps the state redistribute wealth and reward friends.
What a single state – even one as large as California – does with its carbon emissions is insignificant in the global scheme of things. The notion that anything Vermont does is going to affect worldwide temperatures is, to put it mildly, arrogantly unscientific. Even Vox admits that “Washington’s own emissions are not particularly significant in the grand scheme of things.” Vermont’s rank 50th out of 50.
So what, one might argue. Reducing emissions provides other, ancillary benefits, such as simply having cleaner air or more efficient energy usage.
Fair enough. But those are not the arguments being made, and even those enhancements need to be measured against the costs they impose, both economic and environmental (the spoiling of Vermont’s ridges with wind farms, for example, or the desecration of public lands by massive solar arrays).
Exxon yes, activists no
Economist Yoram Bauman, one of the leaders of the carbon-neutral initiative in Washington, described the measure’s opponents aptly in a New York Times piece co-authored with Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw, noting the left’s “unyielding desire to tie everything to bigger government.”
They don’t want to build coalitions across the ideological divide, or work with conservatives to find a solution acceptable to all. Because they’re not interested in a solution. They’re interested in adding to the regulatory power of the state.
Even Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, has endorsed a revenue neutral carbon tax as the best way to “maximize transparency, reduce administrative complexity, promote global participation and easily adjust to future developments in our understanding of climate science.”
So, Exxon’s on board. But not the regulatory extremists.
“In the public imagination, concern for the environment has become virtually synonymous with calls for increased government regulation,” writes Todd Myers, director of the Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environment and an associate fellow of the R Street Institute.
There’s a better way.
“Putting a price on pollution is not a panacea. It should be the second option, employed when and where a property rights or voluntary solution is not appropriate,” Myers writes in “A Conservative Approach to Environmental Principles.”
And, aside from the clever arguments of economists and activists, there is one more point to consider.
Voters are rightly suspicious even of genuinely revenue-neutral proposals like Washington’s for the simple reason that there is no guarantee they will stay neutral.
Once a carbon tax is imposed, a future legislature could easily raise the sales tax or reimpose other taxes that would be eliminated to offset the carbon tax.
Rest assured, the same people clamoring for higher taxes on carbon — but only to pay for their own agenda — will have no compunction about demanding higher taxes on something else tomorrow.
And that won’t have anything to do with protecting the environment or resisting climate change, either. It will be about bigger government, more regulation and less freedom.
is executive editor of He is a veteran editor and has worked in journalism for more than 30 years. He came to Washington in 1999 as an editor at Congressional Quarterly and held several positions at CQ and Roll Call. He is the author of "America 1844: Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion and the Presidential Election That Transformed the Nation." His next book, scheduled to be published in 2017, is on John C. Fremont's 1856 presidential campaign. John also served as senior editor of the 2016 edition of “The Almanac of American Politics.” He can be reached on Twitter @JohnBick1960 and by email at

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