Today, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) introduced the “Managed Carbon Price Act of 2012â€³ (MCP), a bill imposing a tax on carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from producers of coal, oil, and natural gas, refineries, and other covered sources. The MCP has roughly the same long-term goal as the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, the Copenhagen climate treaty, and California Assembly Bill 32 — an 80% emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2050.
Under the MCP, covered sources would have to purchase (non-tradeable) permits equal to the quantity of CO2-equivalent GHGs they emit. The Secretary of Treasury, in consulatation with the Secy. of Energy and Administrator of EPA, would “manage” permit prices to ensure that both the long-term and interim reduction targets are met. Permit prices would have to stay within a maximum and minimum “price collar.” Seventy-five percent of the proceeds would be returned to citizens as “dividends,” and 25% would be applied to deficit reduction. A fact sheet, section-by-section analysis, and side-by-side comparison with last year’s version of the bill provide more detail.
A few quick observations. First, the overwhelming majority of Republican members of Congress have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge – a promise to the citizens of their State or district not to support any tax increase that is not offset by an equal reduction in other taxes. Because 25% of the proceeds raised by the ‘managed’ carbon tax would be applied to deficit reduction, the MCP is not ‘revenue-neutral.’ Pledge takers cannot vote for the MCP without breaking their promises to their constituents. Even if some GOP lawmakers agree with the bill’s climate policy objectives, few will dare to support it.
Second, as I discuss this week on National Journal’s energy blog, there are only two defensible reasons for economic liberty/limited government advocates to consider a carbon tax proposal such as the MCP. One is if we’re stuck with a choice between carbon taxes and cap-and-trade. Back in 2007-2010, some clever people argued that we had to support carbon taxes because “you can’t beat something with nothing.” They were wrong. We beat cap-and-trade by exposing it as a tax. Why on Earth should we support carbon taxes now, when cap-and-trade is dead?
Some limited government advocates may be intrigued by the possibility of a grand bargain in which a national carbon tax replaces all federal and State anti-carbon regulatory programs. Those include not only the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations but also the Renewable Fuel Standard, sub-rosa carbon regulations like the Utility MACT Rule (which effectively bans the construction of new coal power plants), California’s EPA-awarded power to meddle in fuel-economy regulation, California’s cap-and-trade program and low-carbon fuel standard, the Northeast States’ regional greenhouse gas regulatory compact (RGGI), and State renewable portfolio standards (RPS).
That the EPA, California, and major environmental organizations would agree to such a bargain is unthinkable. They have spent 40 years fighting for the regulatory mandates they currently administer or influence, not for carbon taxes. The only deal they might accept is one in which they get carbon taxes and carve-outs for regulatory sacred cows.
Perhaps reflecting this reality, McDermott’s fact sheet, section-by-section, and side-by-side contain no hint or suggestion that carbon taxes would replace or preempt other greenhouse gas reduction policies. The MCP is about as DOA as any bill could be.
Marlo Lewis, Jr. is a Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where he writes on global warming, energy policy, and other public policy issues. Prior to joining CEI in April 2002, he served as Director of External Relations at the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, California. During the 106th Congress, Marlo served as Staff Director of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs.