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Our Turn: It’s time to put a price on carbon



For the Monitor
Monday, November 13, 2017

In the first week of November, two important events emerged in the confluence of Washington, D.C.: The U.S. House unveiled a sweeping tax reform package, and the Trump administration released a sweeping report on climate change.

The House tax-reform package is silent on a carbon tax. However, the Climate Science Special Report released by the administration is far from silent about human-induced climate change. The report, mandated by Congress under a 1990 law signed by President George H.W. Bush and involving expertise from 13 federal agencies, states that the connection between the burning of fossil fuels and climate change and the warmest period in civilization is “unambiguous.”

Based upon scientific rigor and analysis, the 2017 report paints a clear picture of a changing climate: global temperature (up 1.8 degrees since 1901); sea level rise (8 inches since 1900, half of that rise since 1993); heavy rainfall (increasing in frequency and intensity); heatwaves (more frequent since the 1960s); and incidence of daily tidal flooding (accelerating in 25 U.S. coastal cities).

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the highest it has been in 3 million years. Decelerating the use of fossil fuels is necessary in order to stabilize CO2 concentrations, and over 190 nations agreed with this assessment when they signed the Paris accord.

Today only the United States opposes the Paris climate accord.

The problem is greenhouse gas emissions, so what’s the solution? To economists the answer is simple: tax fossil fuels, making them more expensive to use, and then return the revenue to businesses and people.

On the surface tax reform and climate change seem unrelated, yet a number of economists have said placing a price on carbon could find a spot in tax reform.

Eight years ago, in a briefing in the U.S. Senate, economists on both sides of the spectrum (Clinton Economic Advisor Philip Shapiro; American Enterprise Institute’s Ken Greene) agreed that the most effective way to address higher fossil fuel prices resulting from a carbon tax would be to “recycle” the tax revenue back to the American people through the IRS and in doing so reduce corporate taxes (benefiting business) and payroll taxes (benefiting employers and employees).

Five years ago Reagan economist Arthur Laffer spoke in Manchester to a room full of New Hampshire conservatives on the subject of tax reform and explained his support for “swapping” a carbon tax for an income tax. He said later in an interview with N.H. Public Radio, “I think that would be very good for the economy and as an adjunct, it would reduce also carbon emissions into the environment. It would have that effect as well.”

The hundreds of pages in the tax reform package contain provisions that will be debated, discussed and ultimately forged into a new road map for families and businesses.

Sadly, it is unlikely a price on carbon will be part of the tax -reform debate under this administration and this Congress. Climate change solutions and tax reform seem to be, in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing . . . Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.”

The tool we have before us is the Clean Power Plan, America’s first and only approach to federal limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

According to EPA’s original analysis, a fully implemented Clean Power Plan would prevent 90,000 asthma attacks, 300,000 missed work and school days, and 3,600 premature deaths annually by 2030 – all while cutting the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. Yet President Trump disavows the Clean Power Plan and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt intends to repeal it.

Repealing these standards puts polluters over people, at the expense of our communities. It will result in increased rates of respiratory illness and premature death, while worsening climate change and putting our economic growth at risk.

The EPA is holding one public hearing on the repeal in December – in West Virginia coal country. Everyone living in New Hampshire lives at the end of the nation’s tailpipe. Clean air is at risk.

Oppose repeal and support public health, and call for U.S. leadership on climate action. Submit comments on the Clean Power Plan repeal. Comments are being accepted right now – they should be identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0355 and may be submitted online at epa.gov.

(Hunter Brownlie lives in Newmarket. Roger Stephenson lives in Stratham.)