As I have discussed previously, the evidence for global warming is overwhelming. I had hoped that President Trump would publicly recognize this scientific reality and decide to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement. Nevertheless, it will take more than three years for the U.S. to completely withdraw.
But in or out of the Paris Agreement, the best way for the U.S. to show leadership on this critical issue is to adopt a (revenue neutral) carbon tax. The American Enterprise Institute has just issued a comprehensive report on the desirability and feasibility of doing this.
- $40 per ton is often taken to be the social cost of carbon in the atmosphere. A carbon tax at this level would raise the cost of gasoline by 36 cents per gallon.
- A carbon tax is a consumption tax. Taxing consumption rather than income promotes economic growth. The revenue neutral offset would likely be an income tax such as the payroll tax or corporate income tax.
- A carbon tax need not disadvantage the U.S. globally since a border adjustment tax could be imposed on imports from countries without a carbon price regime.
- Replacing arbitrary regulations. The primary carbon-reduction regulations currently in effect are the 1) Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for vehicles and 2) Clean Power Plan which limits power-sector carbon emissions at the state level. Leaving carbon abatement decisions to carbon producers is far more efficient than leaving it up to regulators.
- Growing public acceptance. 84% of registered voters, including 72% of Republicans, support actions to accelerate the development and use of clean energy. Even 49% of conservative Republicans say that “Americans will make major changes to their way of life to address climate change.”
Conclusion. For the U.S. to adopt a carbon tax would be an even stronger statement of world leadership than participating in the Paris Agreement.