carbon tax

The lead article in the summer issue of Regulation magazine, the Cato Institute’s flagship publication, is titled “What is the right price for carbon emissions?”  The author is Bob Litterman, a Ph. D. economist who is currently a partner in a NYC-based hedge fund.

Here is Litterman’s conclusion: “It would be best to get started immediately by pricing carbon emissions no lower, and perhaps well above, a reasonable estimate of the present value of expected future damages, and allow the price to respond appropriately to new information as it becomes known.”

Litterman’s article is followed by four comments by Robert Pindyck, Daniel Sutter, Shi-Ling Hsu, and David R. Henderson.  Pindyck and Hsu are for a carbon tax; Sutter and Henderson are opposed.

These articles were described by someone at Cato as “exploring the case for a carbon tax from a free market perspective.”  But I don’t see anything resembling a free market case for a carbon tax being made in Litterman’s article or in the pro-carbon tax comments of Pindyck and Hsu.

Nor can I find anything in Litterman’s background or in the references in his article to suggest that he is a free market economist.  He was at Goldman Sachs in high positions for twenty-some years and is a member of the board of the World Wildlife Fund.  Goldman Sachs is one of the leading practitioners of crony capitalism.  The World Wildlife Fund supports a variety of command-and-control environmental and energy-rationing policies that help keep poor people poor around the world.

It appears that some people at Cato are warming to the idea of rule by experts.  Manipulating the tax code in order to remake society and force people to conform to some authoritarian agenda is really just another variant of central planning.  Rule by experts was criticized insightfully in a 1945 essay, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” by Friedrich A. Hayek, the Austrian economist for whom the Cato Institute’s auditorium is named.  Hayek argued that rule by experts threatens human freedom.  In my own view, the proper “free market perspective” on a carbon tax is: No way in hell.

Post image for Why Is Congress Lethargic about Energy?

This week National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog poses the question: “What’s holding back energy & climate policy.” So far 14 wonks have posted comments including yours truly. What I propose to do here is ‘revise and extend my remarks’ to provide a clearer, more complete explanation of Capitol Hill’s energy lethargy.

To summarize my conclusions in advance, there is no momentum building for the kind of comprehensive energy legislation Congress enacted in 2005 and 2007, or the major energy bills the House passed in 2011, because:

  • We are not in a presidential election year so Republicans have less to gain from passing pro-energy legislation just to frame issues and clarify policy differences for the electorate;
  • Divided government makes it virtually impossible either for congressional Republicans to halt and reverse the Obama administration’s regulatory war on fossil fuels or for Hill Democrats to pass cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, or a national clean energy standard;
  • Democrats paid a political price for cap-and-trade and won’t champion carbon taxes without Republicans agreeing to commit political suicide by granting them bipartisan cover;
  • The national security and climate change rationales for anti-fossil fuel policies were always weak but have become increasingly implausible thanks to North America’s resurgence as an oil and gas producing province, Climategate, and developments in climate science;
  • Multiple policy failures in Europe and the U.S. have eroded public and policymaker support for ’green’ energy schemes;
  • It has become increasingly evident that the Kyoto crusade was a foredoomed attempt to put policy carts before technology horses; and,
  • The EPA is ’enacting’ climate policy via administrative fiat, so environmental campaigners no longer need legislation to advance their agenda.

[click to continue…]

Post image for 400,000 Lost Jobs by 2016 — Heritage Study of Boxer-Sanders Carbon Tax Proposal

Heritage Foundation analysts David Kreutzer and Kevin Dayaratna yesterday released a study on the economic impact of carbon tax legislation (the Climate Security Act of 2013) sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The Boxer-Sanders legislation would establish a new tax that starts at $20 per ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted and increases by 5.6% annually.

As Kreutzer and Dayaratna point out, hydrocarbon fuels supply 85% of all the energy Americans use, and “basic chemistry” dictates that CO2 will be emitted when those fuels are oxydized (burned) to release energy. The economic implications of those facts are significant and unavoidable:

Therefore, a tax on CO2 would be a tax on the 85 percent of energy derived from hydrocarbons and would increase energy costs broadly. The higher energy costs would ripple through the economy, driving up costs of production of virtually all goods and services. Faced with higher costs for energy and other goods, consumers would cut consumption, translating into a reduction in sales and a marked decline in employment. Though rebating the tax partially offsets these impacts, there would still be a net loss of income and jobs.

Using an energy model derived from the Energy Information Administration’s National Energy Model System (NEMS), the Heritage scholars calculate that, compared to a no-carbon tax baseline, the Boxer-Sanders proposal would:

  • Reduce the income of a family of four by more than $1,000 per year.
  • Reduce employment by more than 400,000 jobs in 2016.
  • Decrease coal production by 60% and coal employment by more than 40% by 2030.
  • Decrease employment 10.4% and 20.9% in the iron and steel and aluminum industries, respectively, by 2030.
  • Increase gasoline prices $0.20 by 2016 and $0.30 before 2030.
  • Increase electricity prices 20% by 2017 and more than 30% by 2030
  • Increase federal taxes by $3 trillion through 2030.
  • Reduce GDP by $92 billion in 2020 and $146 billion in 2030.
  • Decrease projected global warming by, at most, 0.11C by 2100 [probably too little to be reliably detected]. [click to continue…]
Post image for One Million Fewer Jobs Created by 2016 under ‘Modest’ Carbon Tax

Heritage Foundation economists David Kreutzer and Nicolas Loris have posted an assessment of the economic impacts of a carbon tax that starts out at $25 per ton and increases by 5% annually (after adjusting for inflation). Rather than use industry data or assumptions, they compare two policy scenarios (“side cases”) from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2012.

Specifically, Kreutzer and Loris compare projected household income, utility bills, gasoline prices, and job creation in the $25 per ton carbon tax side case and the no-greenhouse-gas-concern side case, a scenario in which energy investors face no risk of a carbon tax or greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation.  

Here’s what they found. A ‘modest’ carbon tax, as described above, would:

  • Cut the income of a family of four by $1,900 per year in 2016 and lead to average losses of $1,400 per year through 2035;
  • Raise the family-of-four energy bill by more than $500 per year (not counting the cost of gasoline);
  • Cause gasoline prices to increase by up to $0.50 gallon, or by 10 percent on an average gallon price; and
  • Lead to an aggregate loss of more than 1 million jobs by 2016 alone. [click to continue…]
Post image for Where Does ExxonMobil Stand on Carbon Taxes? (Updated Dec. 27, 2012)

Yesterday on NPR’s radio program To the Point, I said it was dishonorable for ExxonMobil to support a carbon tax. I compared ExxonMobil’s reported embrace of carbon taxes to Enron’s lobbying for the Kyoto Protocol.

Enron was a a major natural gas distributor and saw in Kyoto a means to suppress demand for coal, natural gas’s chief competitor in the electricity fuel market. ExxonMobil is a major natural gas producer. So I took this to be another case of political capitalism – corporate lobbying to replace a competitive market with a rigged market to enrich a particular firm or industry at the expense of competitors and consumers.

The NPR program host said something like “even oil companies like ExxonMobil now support a carbon tax,” alluding to a Nov. 16 Bloomberg Businessweek article titled ”Carbon Fee From Obama Seen Viable With Backing From Exxon.” I too had read the article, and ExxonMobil’s reported behavior struck me as imprudent as well as unkosher. A carbon tax could come back to bite natural gas producers big time if the EPA decides, along the lines of Cornell University research, that fugitive methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing make natural gas as carbon-intensive as coal.

The Bloomberg article quoted an email from ExxonMobil spokesperson Kimberly Brasington:

Combined with further advances in energy efficiency and new technologies spurred by market innovation, a well-designed carbon tax could play a significant role in addressing the challenge of rising emissions. A carbon tax should be made revenue neutral via tax offsets in other areas.

As explained previously on this site, a revenue-neutral carbon tax is a political pipedream, as is a carbon tax that preempts EPA and State-level greenhouse gas regulations. ExxonMobil is too savvy not to know this. So I interpreted Brasington’s caveats (“combined,” “well-designed,” “revenue-neutral”) to be the typical K Street evasiveness of those wishing to signal rather than declare their support for a controversial policy.

But articles published today in FuelFix and The Hill contend that ExxonMobil “does not support” a carbon tax and is “not encouraging policymakers” to impose such a tax. Both articles quote ExxonMobil VP for public affairs and government relations Ken Cohen:

If policymakers are going to adopt a measure, a regime to affect or put in place a cost on the use of carbon across the economy, then as we look at the range of options, our economists and most economists would support a revenue-neutral, economy-wide carbon tax as the most transparent and efficient way of putting in place a cost on the use of carbon.

Not supporting and not encouraging is not the same as opposing. Indeed, not opposing while saying But if you’re gonna do it, do it like this! can be a low-profile way to support and encourage! Also, why say anything favorable about carbon taxes when cap-and-trade is dead and there’s no longer even a weak prudential case for supporting carbon taxes as the lesser evil? [click to continue…]

Post image for Carbon Tax? Sorry, I Already Gave at the <strike>Office</strike> Gas Pump

Carbon tax advocates say Congress should slap a price penalty on fossil fuels to make consumers bear the “social cost of carbon” (SCC) — the damage carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions allegedly inflict on public health and welfare via their presumed impacts on global climate.

What is the SCC? Depends on who you ask. Climate “hot heads” like Al Gore think the SCC is huge. “Lukewarmers” like Patrick Michaels think the SCC is less than the cost of the tax or regulatory burden required to make deep cuts in CO2 emissions. “Flatliners” like Craig Idso think the SCC is negative (i.e. CO2′s net impact is beneficial), because a moderately warmer climate is healthful and CO2 emissions nourish the biosphere.

In February 2010, the EPA and 11 other agencies issued a Technical Support Document (TSD) on the SCC. The TSD’s purpose is to enable federal agencies to incorporate the “social benefit” of CO2 emission reductions into cost-benefit estimates of regulatory actions.

The TSD recommends that agencies, in their regulatory impact analyses, use four SCC estimates, ranging from $5 per ton to $65 per ton in 2010:

For 2010, these estimates are $5, $21, $35, and $65 (in 2007 dollars). The first three estimates are based on the average SCC across models and socio-economic and emissions scenarios at the 5, 3, and 2.5 percent discount rates, respectively. The fourth value is included to represent the higher-than-expected impacts from temperature change further out in the tails of the SCC distribution.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Both the federal and state governments levy taxes on motor fuel. Motor fuel taxes are not called carbon taxes but their economic effect is the same – impose a price penalty on consumption. Moreover, via simple arithmetic any carbon tax can be converted into an equivalent gasoline tax and vice versa.

The point? Americans in every state except Alaska already pay a combined federal and state gasoline tax that is higher than a carbon tax set at $5, $21, or $35 per ton. Americans in five states pay a combined gasoline tax that is higher than a $65 per ton carbon tax. Americans in several other states pay a combined gasoline tax that is nearly as high as a $65 per ton carbon tax.    [click to continue…]

Post image for Congressman Introduces Carbon Tax Bill

Today, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) introduced the “Managed Carbon Price Act of 2012″ (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. [click to continue…]

Post image for George Shultz Endorses Carbon Tax – You Were Surprised?

Yes, that George Shultz, President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State. But not everyone who served with Reagan was a Reaganite. Reagan’s VP, G.H.W. Bush, famously campaigned on a platform of “Read my lips: No New Taxes.” Not two years later he raised taxes in a 1990 budget deal that torpedoed the economy and sank his presidency.

Yesterday, in an interview puff piece penned by two associates, Shultz, a distinguished fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, called for a ‘revenue-neutral’ carbon tax. This is unsurprising. As the article reminds us, in 2010, Shulz, partnering with Tom Steyer, a Democrat, “led the successful campaign to defeat Proposition 23, a California ballot initiative to suspend the state’s ambitious law to curb greenhouse gases.”

Nothing in the article indicates that Shultz thinks a carbon tax should replace California’s cap-and-trade regime established by AB 32. Nor is there any hint that Shultz would condition the enactment of carbon taxes on repeal of the EPA’s court-awarded power to regulate greenhouse gases via the Clean Air Act.

This pattern is becoming boringly familiar. [click to continue…]

Post image for More on the Carbon Tax Cabal

Concerning the “Price Carbon Campaign/Lame Duck Initiative” meeting of center-right and ‘progressive’ pols, wonks, and activists yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), herewith a few additional thoughts.

Today’s Greenwire quotes AEI economic policy director Kevin Hassett saying that AEI was just playing host and the meeting was just information sharing. Well, okay, let’s assume he experienced it that way, but what about the ‘progressives’ who set the agenda? They must really be into sharing, because this was their fifth meeting. Whatever the AEI folks thought the event was about, the agenda clearly outlines a strategy meeting to develop the PR/legislative campaign to promote and enact carbon taxes.

During the cap-and-trade debate in the last Congress, there was something of a consensus among economists that EPA regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is the worst option, a ‘comprehensive legislative solution’ (i.e. cap-and-trade) has less economic risk, and a carbon tax is the most efficient option. But the ‘progressives’ in the “Price Carbon Campaign” are pushing for carbon taxes on top of EPA regulation.

Because the meeting was non-public and hush-hush, we may never know who said what. Here are some points the ‘conservative’ economists  should have made: [click to continue…]

Post image for AEI Hosts Fifth Secret Meeting to Promote Carbon Tax

Today, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a prominent conservative think tank, hosted a secret, four-and-a-half hour meeting of pols, wonks, and activists, including several self-identified ’progressives,’ to develop a PR/legislative strategy to promote and enact a carbon tax. This was the fifth such meeting to advance the ”Price Carbon Campaign/Lame Duck Initiative: A Carbon Pollution Tax in Fiscal and Tax Reform.” An annoted copy of the meeting agenda appears at the bottom of this post.

Perhaps not coincidentally, earlier this week former GOP Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina launched the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, an organization promoting carbon taxes. Inglis obtained funding for the project from the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Energy Foundation, both left-leaning foundations.

Left-right coalitions can be principled and desirable. For example, I worked with environmental groups to help end the ethanol tax credit, and I work with them now to develop the case for eliminating the ethanol mandate. We collaborate because we share the same policy objective, even if not always for the same reasons. The free marketers want to end political meddling in the motor fuel market and the environmentalists want to end federal support for a fuel they regard as more polluting than gasoline. The common objective is consistent with each partner’s core principles.

But such cases are the exception rather than the rule. In general, when left and right join forces, the appropriate question is: Who is duping whom?

My colleague Myron Ebell sent out an alert about the AEI-hosted carbon tax cabal earlier today. It appears immediately below: [click to continue…]