Let’s get one thing clear: The express purpose of a carbon tax is to raise prices on all varieties of energy that consumers rely on; there is just no such thing as a “free market” carbon tax. To call a massive new tax on energy “free-market” is Orwellian doublespeak, like the phrases “new and improved” or “genuine imitation.” It’s an entirely fictitious concept, but unfortunately, some Republicans are giving this notion serious consideration.
Recently, Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Florida Republican, Brian Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania Republican, and Francis Rooney, Florida Republican, introduced a carbon tax bill that would replace the federal gas tax with an economy-wide carbon tax. As detailed in my recent op-ed, this bill would increase gas and electricity costs for all consumers, undermine economic growth and our nation’s energy security, create extreme regulatory uncertainty for dozens of manufacturing industries, and give the federal government more power. Further, it’s set to automatically increase 2 percent every year above the inflation rate.
Empowering government to tax more industries by what they produce at the ultimate expense of consumers and our economy should serve as a giant red flag that a carbon tax is neither free-market nor conservative. This is worth pointing out just in case Al Gore’s seal of approval didn’t convince you. Channeling Mr. Gore, Mr. Curbelo claims his legislation will “save the planet,” words you’ll surely have a hard time finding in the collected speeches of Ronald Reagan.
Even Canada, which nobody will confuse with a red state, wants nothing to do with the idea. Canadians are in near revolt over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax, slated to take effect next year. Provincial ministers have called it a “job killer” and a “cash grab” by Ottawa they say will drive investment out of their region and depress their economy. Politicians there who have vowed to fight the carbon tax have surged in the polls. When Republican politicians find themselves to the left of foreign environmental ministers, perhaps that is a sign they’ve taken a detour off the free-market freeway.
Still, Mr. Curbelo is not the only Republican promoting a carbon tax. The Climate Leadership Council (CLC) recently released its own plan to push for carbon tax legislation. Backed by big funders and well-known Republicans George Schultz and James Baker, the CLC is doing the heavy lifting in the orchestrated plan to rebrand the tax as “conservative” and “market-based,” but a more thorough examination exposes it as the exact opposite. In fact, if you take a closer look, the Climate Leadership Council’s proposed plan is just a repurposed version of legislation introduced earlier this year by Democrats, Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Don Beyer, two of the most liberal members of Congress.
Both the CLC proposal and the Van Hollen/Beyer climate bill would create a new tax on most forms of energy, including gasoline, diesel, coal and natural gas — resources that are central to economic output and which all Americans rely on daily. Additionally, a border adjustment tax would be established under both proposals, hiking prices on countless essential imported consumer goods.
And where would these massive new tax revenues go? Both proposals would purportedly create a federal wealth-redistribution rebate scheme, empowering the government with hundreds of billions of our tax dollars and then entrusting it to redistribute that money back to us fairly and efficiently. Of course there are no safeguards to prevent Congress from ultimately hijacking the funds to plug spending gaps or pour down the black hole of our $21 trillion national debt. Who’s ready to trust Congress with tens of billions more of our tax dollars?
Not only will these carbon tax proposals increase the price of gas and electricity and amount to new taxes and costs for consumers, they will create financial strain on those struggling to pay for food, transportation and utilities. A carbon tax would also harm the economy in other ways, resulting in lost jobs and investments. In energy-focused industries such as transportation and manufacturing, companies would see a decrease in demand due to increasing consumer costs. All-in-all, a carbon tax would be detrimental to consumers, manufacturers and our economy.
Republicans must take a closer look at the Climate Leadership Council’s carbon tax proposal and the Van Hollen/Beyer climate bill. CLC can market its carbon tax proposal as conservative and market-based all day long, but that doesn’t make it true. In fact, it is nearly identical to the liberal Van Hollen/Beyer bill. By any stretch of the imagination or tortured language, a giant and ever-increasing tax on energy and economic production — to be paid for by every U.S. consumer — is anything but conservative. It taxes our common sense to claim otherwise.
• Gerard Scimeca is a lawyer and vice president of the Consumer Action for a Strong Economy (CASE).