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Brookings West scholar proposes federal carbon tax

By Jacob Lasky
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An authority on the economics of climate change proclaimed her support for a federal

carbon tax Tuesday morning at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Adele Morris, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, explained in a press conference that taxing carbon can reduce greenhouse emissions in the United States.

“By far, the most important policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to make it more expensive to do it,” said Morris.

By placing taxes on carbon use, Morris thinks it will encourage people to use other types of energy that are cleaner for the environment.

“What you’re doing in the policy I’m describing is…reordering which fuels are going to be the most cost effective,” said Morris.

The majority of the authority regarding climate change has fallen under the Environmental Protection Agency which enforces the Clean Air Act.

Even though the Clean Air Act has been used to address important concerns regarding climate change, Morris still feels that it has some flaws.

“The problem with the authority though is it requires [the] EPA to regulate emissions source by source, state by state,” said Morris.

Morris feels that the problem with allowing states to have their own emission standards is that it gives states different incentives for taxing one emission source over another.

“That doesn’t make economic sense intrinsically because all that pollution does the same damage,” said Morris. “There’s no good reason economically to pick on power plants…versus chemical refiners or your car.”

Morris thinks that a federal tax on carbon emissions would be the best economic solution to address climate change.

While stressing the importance of a nationwide carbon tax, Morris acknowledges that this concept is far from becoming reality.

She feels that the United States is far behind in climate policy compared to many other major countries.

Morris cited strong environmental initiatives taken by other major global powers including the European Union’s cap and trade program.

She also emphasized the importance of looking at failed polices including Australia’s carbon tax initiative.

“This is a lesson to the United States that what polices we adopt need to stay adopted,” said Morris in reference to Australia’s failed carbon tax.

Morris also stressed the importance of carefully planning a carbon tax plan that will not harm low-income households.

“What I would advocate is being very careful in designing how you use the revenue [from the carbon tax] so that people in low-income households are no worse off,” said Morris.

The Brookings Institution expert suggested that revenue from carbon taxes could go toward public programs to benefit low-income houses including food stamps.

Her vision for a carbon tax would also start off gradually.

Support for a carbon tax has some surprising supporters as well.

In particular, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson has recently praised the idea of carbon taxing.

This may be surprising for some to hear such a powerful figure in the oil industry to support a carbon tax, but Morris said that oil companies can reap benefits from it.

Morris explained that a carbon tax gives oil companies price certainty and allows them to capture market from the coal industry.

She also explained that they would not be affected as hard by a carbon tax compared to average citizens who would be mostly paying for it.

While Morris argues that this proposal will benefit the economy, she recognizes there are some challenges in seeking policy change.

Much of the criticism comes from people who say that taking action on climate change

will be too expensive.

In addition, there are those who deny climate change.

“Denying climate change has been a politically successful strategy,” said Morris.

Morris acknowledges that there are some top Republican officials who think climate change is a hoax.

However, Morris feels if anybody should take action on passing a carbon tax at the federal level it should be Republicans.

One factor as to why she thinks Republicans should lead an initiative on a carbon tax is that they are in favor of pro-growth tax reform.

“If they want to have tax reform, it’s going to be very difficult to do that without any revenue resource,” said Morris.

By taking on a carbon tax, she thinks that Republicans would be able to have enough revenue to fund pro-growth tax initiatives.

Toward the end of her discussion, she mentioned her views on Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

She expressed disdain for the current Republican presidential candidates.

“I’ve been very disappointed in the Republican candidates,” said Morris.

As for Democratic presidential candidates, Morris feels that Sen. Bernie Sanders has the strongest stance on climate change.

Notably, Sanders supports a carbon tax in his political platform.

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