To Slow Global Warming, We Need a Carbon Tax

Trump Environmental Regulations

Over the past two weeks, Donald Trump proposed slashing the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and began the process of gutting environmental regulations.

Among the regulations he would roll back are Obama-era restrictions on coal-burning power plants, limits on hydraulic fracking and a moratorium on the leasing of public lands for coal mining.

Trump has also proposed doing away with a requirement that Federal agencies consider the “social cost” of carbon when evaluating energy-related policies.

The latter issue is particularly relevant in Trump’s case.

It is no accident that Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is the former CEO of ExxonMobil.   Trump is essentially proposing to give the industry a free ride to exploit resources for private gain while the general public is forced to eat the “social costs” of energy extraction including global warming and environmental degradation.

His claim that rolling back environmental regulations will “create jobs” is a diversion. What those regulations are really doing, and why Trump is gutting them, is they hurt the profits of the energy companies.

Gutting environmental regulations may create a few additional jobs in the very short run. But in the medium to long term, it will actually do just the opposite, making the U.S. less competitive in an emerging and rapidly growing international clean energy industry.

Energy companies (and by extension consumers of fossil fuels) should pay the full cost of energy extraction, including the cost to slow global warming and clean our air, rivers and streams. The best and most efficient way to do that is “carbon tax” on power plants and other emissions.

A carbon tax would be so efficient and economically productive, according to the NY Times, that even many Republicans support the concept.

Proceeds could be used to stimulate economic growth by investing in clean energy technology, retraining displaced workers in industries such as coal mining, and building environmentally friendly infrastructure such as mass transit.

As an initial step, we should raise the Federal gasoline tax, a form of carbon tax. The gas tax has been 18 cents for more than two decades. Why? Because the U.S. Congress is so dysfunctional it can’t get its act together to raise the tax in line with inflation — even as gas prices have plummeted in recent years.

Clean energy is the future. The U.S. needs stronger environmental regulations, not weaker ones. We need an Administration that doesn’t pander to the energy industry to maximize its short-term profits and shift costs onto the general public. And we need a tax on carbon emissions to create the incentives needed to slow global warming, clean the environment and grow our economy.