Forget the scientific argument over climate change for the moment, or for that matter, assume that climate catastrophe is a certainty for purposes of discussion. From the beginning the climatistas and their media cheerleaders have confined all policy discussion to one single track: suppress fossil fuels, even though no affordable, scalable substitutes for hydrocarbon energy are in sight.
The practical ideas for the suppression of hydrocarbon energy have taken two forms: the favorite is emissions trading (“cap and trade”), which failed in Congress when Democrats still enjoyed large majorities in both houses, chiefly because the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill was so chock full of special interest deals and cross subsidies that it became apparent even to honest environmentalists (yes—they meet in a phone booth at DuPont Circle) that the bill was a mockery of serious climate legislation.
The second idea, which finds some favor among some conservatives and even libertarians, is a carbon tax. To be sure, in the abstract, a carbon tax would allow the diffuse mechanism of prices to dictate how people should change the energy mix, which is far superior to the arcane world of emissions trading. And it is often suggested, as I observed George Shultz doing here a little while ago, that a “revenue-neutral” carbon tax could be rebated to taxpayers, or used to reduce other taxes (corporate income? capital gains?) that retard economic growth and efficiency.
All of this is prologue to understanding why our political class can’t be trusted with a carbon tax, no matter what you think the evidence for global warming is. The New York Times today reports that Washington state governor Jay Inslee wants a carbon tax . . . to pay for education and transportation:
He has proposed collecting a new charge on emissions from oil refineries, power plants and other industries that would reap an estimated $1.3 billion in the first year. But in contrast to similar systems in California and the Northeast, energy experts said, Mr. Inslee’s plan would use most of the new revenue for education and transportation rather than on climate or energy projects.
We’re always told that revenue from emissions trading or a carbon tax will be used for energy and climate change adaptation purposes. But Inslee has let the mask slip and made obvious that it is a lie. Liberal politicians especially are drooling for a carbon tax as a new revenue source. It isn’t going to be rebated to taxpayers. It isn’t going to be used as a bargaining chip for a decent tax reform. It’s going to be used to pay for more government goodies.
Inslee isn’t the first to let the mask slip. In California, Jerry Brown is planning to use emissions trading funds to pay for his high-speed-rail-to-nowhere project, on the ludicrous grounds that high-speed rail will reduce emissions. (The opposite is likely the case.) No one should fall for the carbon tax trap.