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TAUBE: Why a carbon tax is wrong for the right

Levy would trade one anti-growth policy for another

It goes without saying the Republicans have to take a free-market-oriented position on the environment to win over some voters. It would also be an egregious political error, however, to ever include support for a carbon tax.

Most of today's GOP lawmakers, past and present, would likely agree with this position. One notable exception to the rule is former South Carolina Republican Rep. Bob Inglis.

In 2012, Mr. Inglis established the Energy & Enterprise Initiative, which is located at George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication. According to its website, the initiative "is a campaign to unleash the power of free enterprise to deliver the fuels of the future."

How exactly would this be done? This campaign thinks a "sensible solution is a revenue-neutral tax swap, accompanied by a phaseout of all energy subsidies. A tax swap would, dollar for dollar, ratchet down anti-growth income taxes and shift the tax onto carbon pollution: Tax the bad, quit taxing the good, and let the free-enterprise system deliver the fuels of the future."

Mr. Inglis is, therefore, touting a carbon tax and masking it as a free-market principle. This is a terrible idea and, quite frankly, an inaccurate assessment of what this policy would ultimately do to the economy.To begin with, the carbon tax isn't a free-market-oriented strategy. It falls under the parameters of a regressive, Pigouvian tax, which affects overall market outcomes through social costs rather than purely private costs. The government would, therefore, be able to use the carbon tax as a means of regular interference with the ebb and flow of the free market. For those of us who believe in capitalism and want to dramatically reduce the government's involvement in our daily lives, this is exactly what we should be opposing - not promoting.The carbon tax is also typically a proposal from left-of-center political parties. Here's a prime example: In the 2008 Canadian federal election, then-Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion proposed a national carbon tax to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions as a major policy plank. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper strongly opposed it, stating the carbon tax would "screw everybody" because it would "recklessly harm the economy and the economic position of every Canadian family." Canadians clearly sided with the right-leaning Mr. Harper, re-electing the Tories with a minority government that year - and a majority in 2011.

Moreover, most true conservatives don't support the principle of increasing or adding new taxes. The same theory goes for a carbon tax, which is nothing more than a subtle shift of taxes from one source to the other. By nature, conservatives believe in significantly reducing - or, if possible, eliminating - the tax burden for individuals and corporations. While there are situations where a slight tax increase may be unavoidable (i.e., to pay for military efforts in foreign countries), the hope is that these instances are few and far between.

With all due respect to Mr. Inglis and the Energy & Enterprise Initiative, there are far better ways to promote a free market environmental policy than a distinctly anti-free-market carbon tax. Some better energy sources are sitting right in front of us.Take the Keystone XL oil pipeline, for example. North Dakota GOP Sen. John Hoeven's budget amendment to support the pipeline's construction passed by a 62-37 margin in the Senate last week. Many Republicans (and Democrats) are now fundamentally aware of the significant political and economic benefits in transporting synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada.Keystone would build a stronger and more competitive market economy for oil in North America. It would significantly decrease reliance and dependency on oil-rich nations that don't respect democracy, liberty, freedom and basic human rights. It would also create exciting new business and job opportunities for U.S. and international companies in the process.

For the GOP, this is a golden opportunity to support Keystone as a model for environmental progress. It would show skeptics that the free market can be seen in a positive light when it comes to using the planet's natural resources as an economic benefit. It would even prove Republicans remain committed to finding new energy sources that won't hurt the average American's wallet.

This is something a carbon tax can't do and will never be able to do. That's why the GOP should avoid the temptation to consider it now, or in the future.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a contributor to The Washington Times.

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