Prominent US Economists Call for Taxing Carbon Emissions

A bipartisan group of prominent American economists has penned a letter and op-ed appearing in the Wall Street Journal calling for a tax on carbon emissions. eliminating duplicative emissions-related regulations and sharing the tax revenue with US households through recurring dividend checks.
Prominent US Economists Call for Taxing Carbon Emissions

The statement was organized by the Climate Leadership Council, a group supporting a federal carbon tax led by two former Republican secretaries of state, James Baker III and George Shultz.

There are more than 40 signatories to the statement including the top economic advisers to Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Four former chairs of the Federal Reserve also signed on, including Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, first appointed by Republicans, and Paul Volcker and Janet Yellen, who were first appointed by Democrats.

The signers contend a carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions "at the scale and speed that is necessary."

"A carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future,” they said.

The carbon tax endorsed by the group of economists and former government officials would increase every year until emissions reductions goals are met.

The carbon-tax-and-dividend model sought by Climate Leadership Council and endorsed by the signatories in the op-ed is premised on distributing all of the revenue from the tax as a rebate to households, protecting them from higher energy costs associated with the tax.

In their statement the economists said "global climate change is a serious problem calling for immediate national action."

They went on to say they are united in the following policy recommendations:

  • A carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary. By correcting a well-known market failure, a carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future.
  • A carbon tax should increase every year until emissions reductions goals are met and be revenue neutral to avoid debates over the size of government. A consistently rising carbon price will encourage technological innovation and large-scale infrastructure development. It will also accelerate the diffusion of carbon-efficient goods and services.
  • A sufficiently robust and gradually rising carbon tax will replace the need for various carbon regulations that are less efficient. Substituting a price signal for cumbersome regulations will promote economic growth and provide the regulatory certainty companies need for long-term investment in clean-energy alternatives.
  • To prevent carbon leakage and to protect US competitiveness, a border carbon adjustment system should be established. This system would enhance the competitiveness of American firms that are more energy-efficient than their global competitors. It would also create an incentive for other nations to adopt similar carbon pricing.
  • To maximize the fairness and political viability of a rising carbon tax, all the revenue should be returned directly to US citizens through equal lump-sum rebates. The majority of American families, including the most vulnerable, will benefit financially by receiving more in “carbon dividends” than they pay in increased energy prices.

Despite the renown and connections of the op-ed signatories, the proposal is expected to confront considerable head winds in Washington, D.C.

President Donald Trump and many Republicans continue to either ignore or dismiss climate change and voluminous scientific studies identifying it as a society-changing concern.

At the same time, the newly empowered Democrats in the House of Representatives are more enthused with another proposal, the so-called "Green New Deal" proposed by newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York.

But that plan, while much discussed, is still largely undefined. The gist of it, as distilled in various interviews that Ocasio-Cortez has given over the past several months, is that it will include massive investments in renewable energy jobs and infrastructure. The congresswoman says this will help to both dramatically decrease carbon emissions and provide economic opportunities and economic justice to more Americans.

Photo caption: Coal-fired power plants provide about 32 percent of consumed electricity in the United States, As of September 2017. This is the Castle Gate Plant near Helper, Utah. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

For additional information:

Climate Leadership Council

The Conservative case for Carbon Dividends

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Scottish Scientist
The Energy Innovation AND Carbon Dividend Act – THE BIPARTISAN CLIMATE SOLUTION is, in my opinion, half-baked as is and so I won’t support it, not unless and until it is amended to restrict the “Carbon Dividend” spending by consumers to only government-approved and audited low-carbon purchases. So rather than issue the carbon dividend foolishly as money, it would be wisely administered by depositing credits in each person’s carbon dividend low carbon spending account administered as a quasi-banking service which issues to everyone a special purpose low carbon spending credit card whose credits could only be spent on government-approved low carbon purchases from government-approved sellers which would credit the seller’s low carbon money accounts with such low carbon purchase credits, which sellers could spend as they see fit. The scheme is half-baked as it is because carbon dividends issued as money could be spent on high carbon purchases resulting in the reverse effect to that intended – namely an increase in carbon dioxide pollution. Additionally, I would support Green New Deal government projects funded from additional government borrowing and / or from progressive taxation.