The Times West Virginian

Opinion

November 18, 2012

Carbon tax simply not realistic part of energy policy for United States

Barack Obama said last week that he wants a national “conversation” on climate change during his second term as president.

Obama, though, did not mention a possible carbon tax pushed by some groups, and a White House official said no such proposal is on the table.

“We would never propose a carbon tax and have no intention of proposing one,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a press briefing. “The point the president was making is that our focus right now is the same as the American people’s focus, which is on the need to extend economic growth, expand job creation.”

Obama said, “If the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

It’s critical that the president be a man of his word.

As The Associated Press reported, the issue of climate change was revived when superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast, Obama won re-election and there were Democratic gains in Congress.

Realistically, a carbon tax has no chance of passage in a Congress that is divided along party and regional lines.

Last week, Brookings Institution released a “modest carbon tax” proposal that would raise $150 billion a year, with $30 billion annually earmarked for clean energy investments. Brookings senior policy fellow Mark Muro called it a “perfect storm” of science and politics.

A tax of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions would add up to 9 to 10 percent to the price of gasoline and electric power, Muro said.

It’s an unaffordable price, particularly in a country still recovering from the effects of the recession.

We stand by our long-held position that the United States would be foolish to not explore the possibilities of “clean” or renewable energy, but not at the expense of coal, natural gas and oil — which will be a significant part of the energy portfolio domestically and worldwide for decades to come.

“As we work toward a cleaner environment, I believe we need to find a balance between the environment and our economy,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was quoted in The State Journal. “The president himself acknowledged this need for balance with jobs in his comments (last week) — and I believe our first steps must be to fix the finances of this country and create good jobs.”

Manchin added that given world population, “there’s no question that humans have an impact on our climate.”

“The real question is how we deal with it,” Manchin said. “The fact is, 8 billion tons of coal will be burned next year worldwide, according to the Department of Energy. China is burning half of that, while the United States is using only one-eighth. The Department of Energy also projects that the United States will continue to rely on coal for well over a third of our energy for decades to come. With that being the reality, our country also has a tremendous opportunity to develop technology that will help make coal generation cleaner — not only in America but all over the world.”

There are strong statements out there on both sides of the issue.

“If the EPA is allowed to continue its aggressive anti-coal agenda, the American economy will lose another 1.5 million jobs in the next four years,” said Mike Duncan, president and CEO of American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “The EPA does not consider the economic consequences of their actions, which in this case will not only erase American jobs; it will raise annual costs to families by hundreds of dollars, the equivalent of a monthly grocery bill.”

Brad Johnson, campaign manager for ClimateSilence.org, an environmental group, said, “While conventional D.C. wisdom is focused on the manufactured crisis of the ‘fiscal cliff,’ the truth is that the most urgent threat to our national safety and economic well-being is the climate cliff that we are already beginning to tumble over.”

Obama has said his approach will be “having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation, with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find out what more can we do to make short-term progress in reducing carbon.”

That approach — combined with taking carbon tax off the table — are steps toward Obama being a more realistic and effective president when it comes to energy policy during his second term. If he follows through, we’ll be happy to lend our support.

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