THE BLOG

Conservative Carbon

02/07/2013 02:27 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2013

David Vitter is a conservative Republican from Louisiana, the ranking minority member on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and in the case of a carbon tax, blinded by his ideology.

One says "blinded" because the carbon tax can be shaped to fit the conservative mold if politicians of that philosophical bent are willing to keep an open mind. Unfortunately, Vitter and many other conservatives as yet have been unable to break free from their pre-conceived notions. Instead, they display an entrenched visceral, kneejerk negativity at even the mention of the word "tax".

No surprise then, that the idea of carbon emitted by the burning of fossil fuel being taxed to combat global warming elicits the following responses from Vitter.

He has introduced a resolution urging Congress not to consider a carbon tax because it is "regressive" and would especially hurt low income wage earners. "It is an effort to redistribute the world's wealth through climate policy," Vitter declares.

The senator and his fellow Right Wing naysayers need to extricate themselves from an inflexible political correctness that is creating a major road block to problem solving. A carbon tax, if adeptly applied, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use, big pluses for environmental protection and energy security, and do so without an overall increase in taxes.

Vitter, however, is additionally compromised by hailing from a state where the fossil fuel industry is a political powerhouse. Consequently, he feels the oil barons' pain at the prospect of reduced gasoline consumption. For good measure, he further ingratiates himself with industry by expressing doubts that human activity is instrumental in warming of the planet.

The senator ought to listen to economists Shi-Ling Hsu and Yoram Bauman. In a recent article in the Environmental Law Institute's (ELI) journal, the duo explains why conservatives should be supportive of a carbon tax (and some prominent ones are, especially among economists),

The ELI authors argue that conservatives should embrace a carbon tax, even if skeptical of human involvement in global warming or of the validity of global warming itself.

Far from being regressive, the authors contend, the carbon tax will at worst have an overall neutral effect on the public's pocketbooks. In many instances, the levy can decrease the tax burden through rebates, especially among low income wage earners. You would think that would be an irresistible lure for conservative loyalists. Higher gasoline prices because of the carbon tax could be offset by using the tax revenue either to award refunds directly to the public or to reduce other taxes such as payroll and /or sales. The ELI authors point out that in the latter case, taxes on wages would be shifted to fossil fuel-burning pollution. Price signals would steer the public towards activity more conducive to a cleaner environment, speed up the switch to renewable energy, and buttress the principle that the polluter should pay, a concept compatible with conservative thought.

Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vt., plans to introduce a carbon tax bill, and hopefully, Senator Vitter will rethink his opposition. After all, the ELI economists calculate that a carbon tax of $30 a ton could produce at least $145 billion a year that could be used to cut personal and corporate income taxes by 10 percent and still leave $35 billion for deficit reduction.

So there you have the carbon scenario. Lower taxes, deficit reduction, and a limited government solution for fighting pollution through market prices instead of federal regulation.

For Conservatives (as well as Liberals), what's not to like!