Posts tagged ‘carbon tax’

The Big Lie

I try to never use "lie" or "liar" when discussing politics.  They have become perhaps the most abused and overused words in political discourse, and seldom do they add much to a discussion.

But I simply have no other way to reconcile Obama's promise that he is not raising taxes on 98% of Americans with his imposition of a cap-and-trade system for CO2.

For years, Al Gore supported a carbon tax on fuels as a way to fight CO2.  As I have written a number of times, if one really feels the need to reduce CO2 emissions (which I don't), then a carbon tax is far, far more efficient, fair, and effective than a cap-and-trade system.  There are only two advantages to a cap-and-trade system over a carbon tax, and neither has anything to do with Co2 mitigation or program effectiveness:

  1. The tax is hidden, so politicians can pretend the did not really impose a tax.  The author of California's AB32 cap-and-trade system admitted as much to me in a face-to-face debate we had last year
  2. There are numerous opportunities for politically favored companies to create dubious offset and measurement systems under cap-and-trade which don't exist under a more straight-forward carbon tax.  Which may explain why Al Gore, who sits on the board of over $2 billion in investments in such companies peddling various offset quackery, now supports cap-and-trade over the carbon tax

Here is the basic economics, a topic on which it is rapidly becoming clear that Obama is completely ignorant**.   First, we have to assume that whatever cap-and-trade system that is implemented is actually effective at reducing CO2 emissions.   This is far from an absolute given, as it can be argued that the European system has done all of about nothing to reduce Co2 emissions (they will claim that it has been effective, but the majority of European CO2 emissions have come from a) British coal-replacement strategy, initiated for reasons other than Co2; b) fall of the inefficient Soviet economies and the shut down of their worst polluting industries; and c) unification of Germany.

But, assuming that cap-and-trade actually reduces CO2, then it HAS to increase costs for consumers.  There is no way around it.  It will do one or both of the following:

  1. Raise prices due to increased producer costs.  An example is electricity generated from any sort of fossil fuel will simply have to be more expensive
  2. Raise prices due to increased scarcity.  In industries where the supply and demand dynamics do not allow cost increases to be passed to consumers, then reduced production and scarcity will result.  In the electrical industry, older coal plants that can't afford to pay for the Co2 permits may need to shut down.

Recognize that this HAS to occur, especially #2, or the cap-and-trade system won't be working.  Another way to put it is 1 and 2 above are what designers of the system want and expect to occur.

So how is this not a tax?  Well, this is an old, old strategy.  Rather than tax consumers directly, the government taxes business.  When companies inevitably pass the cost on, it is not the government at fault, it is the business for being greedy and raising prices.  Politicians insulate themselves from criticism.

Further, Obama and the environmental crowd have been laying the groundwork over this for years by arguing that such "green" initiatives actually help the economy and improve efficiency.  They have no proof of this, but they repeat it A LOT.  Repeat something enough, and some people believe it.  This despite the fact that there is no way in the world that obsoleting perfectly good production capacity and requiring its replacement (e.g. coal plants) is a net positive for the economy.  (It can be a net positive for human well-being, but to say it is net positive for the economy is to fall into the broken windows fallacy).

So expect that when power companies inevitably raise prices due to cap-and-trade, politicians will respond by saying that the companies are being greedy and simple minded, and if they were really smart, the cap-and-trade system would not have cost them anything.  It would have made them more efficient.  it would have been a net positive.  And that this failure of theirs to see this probably will drive calls on the left for more government oversight and regulation of these industries.

Don't believe me?  Think this last paragraph is exaggerated?  Well, here are two things to think about.  The first is from our former Arizona governor, arguing that she got a bunch of government employees into a bull session in a conference room for an hour or so, and they all decided that cap-and-trade would be a net benefit to the power industry:

Napolitano brushed aside questions of what effect the plan will have on utility rates.

"First of all, that it may increase electric bills doesn't mean it will increase them now," Napolitano said...

Napolitano said there is "lots of data" to suggest that utilities eventually will be able to save money "by moving to a system of "˜green' energy.""¦

on a long-term basis, there may be cost savings.

So if utilities raise their rates, its obviously because they are greedy profiteers, because all of us here in government think it's obvious that paying for carbon allowances should result in cost savings.  If it doesn't, well, maybe we are smarter than they are, and have to provide more government leadership of the industry.

They would never go that far, you say?  So why has Obama created a government commission to restructure the auto industry on the implicit assumption that a couple of smart government guys in a room can do what the industry itself has not been able to do for 30 years?

** This is not to say that Obama does not have highly educated economic ad visors.  But the President's own knowledge, assumptions, comfort-level and outlook on a subject are critical, no matter what the quality of his advisers.  For example, even if I were crazy enough to want the job, I would never run for President because I know, by outlook and knowledge, I am not qualified to manage foreign policy or be commander-in-chief of the military.  Sure, I could surround myself with advisers, but there are proven limits to the "rely on advisers" approach.  I might argue that Bush's foreign policy is an example of such limits.

Carbon Tax vs. Cap and Trade

Coyote, December 2007:

I can for a moment place myself in a position where I would imagine being worried about CO2 and dependence on fossil fuels.  For someone who really cares about these things, here is what a rational energy plan would look like:

  1. large federal carbon tax, offset by reduction in income and/or payroll taxes
  2. streamlined program for licensing new nuclear reactors
  3. get out of the way

Ronald Bailey, today:

Interestingly, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) suggested to Gore during the hearing that a better proposal would be to impose an across-the-board carbon tax which would then be reimbursed entirely by cutting the payroll tax.

He has much more on problems of cap and trade in the article.  I have written many times on a carbon tax vs. cap-and-trade, indexed here.

Another Reason Why We'll Never See A Carbon Tax, But Instead Will Get A Crazy Cap-And-Trade Scheme

I have written enough on how much superior carbon taxes are to cap-and-trade as a CO2 reduction methodology (if we really are going to do "something," which I hope we don't).  An index of these articles is here.

In the title, I say "another" reason, becuase the number one reason we won't see a carbon tax is that politicians greatly prefer an indirect tax over a direct one, even if it is far more inefficient.  This was explained directly and clearly to me by the author of California's cap-and-trade program.

Close behind this, in second place, is the fact that cap-and-trade spawns a dizzying array of lobbying and special interest influence possibilities that carbon taxes do not, and all those lobbyists mean more power and campaign contributions for politicians.

But here is another reason why it will never happen:  Too many very influential Democrats have substantial investments in start-up companies whose entire existance depends on living in the cracks of cap-and-trade, particularly in generating various dubious offset schemes.  Al Gore is the most obvious example, but apparently Obama's new climate czar Carol Browner sits on boards of such companies as well.

I Have Been On-Board For A While

I don't think that anthropogenic global warming will be substantial enough to justify massive and expensive interventions to limit Co2.  I won't go into the reasons for this statement, as I have a whole other blog dedicated to climate.  If you are unfamiliar with the arguments that Co2 is likely warming the Earth, but not by nearly as much as alarmists claim, you might start with some of these videos.

However, it seems almost inevitable that the new Congress and Administration will do "something" on Co2, if for no other reason that it has become a self-image issue on the left  (i.e. I am a good person because I care about global warming).  We libertarians are seldom very good at engaging on issues of how such government interventions should be done best.  Every time people ask us our opinion of how to structure such a program to do the least harm, we get about 5 seconds into an answer before we just break down and start yelling, "this is crazy!  Do nothing!  Leave us alone!" (actually, emissions laws are one of the few areas where government regulation helps to protect private property rights).

Bryan Pick at Q&O points to a number of folks advocating an increase in carbon taxes offset by reductions in payroll taxes (Bryan's plan is more comprehensive than this, and is here).  I actually advocated something similar over a year ago.  Here is my logic chain:

  1. The carbon tax is a much, much better approach to reducing CO2 than cap-and-trade systems.  Cap-and-trade is bad for the same reason that politicians like it -- it offers a near infinite playing field for lobbying, special rules, influence-peddling, special exemptions, government chosen winners, etc. while hiding the fact that it is in fact a huge new tax.  My more detailed argument on this can be found here and here and here.
  2. A new carbon tax should be revenue neutral.  After all, the point in the first place is not to raise revenues, but to provide a pricing signal that Americans need to switch away from carbon-based fuels.
  3. A good place to offset revenues is the payroll tax.  Both fuel taxes and payroll taxes are criticized for being regressive, so it is an easy place to try to forge a compromise with the left.  Further, the payroll tax acts effectively as a tax on hiring, so a reduction would certainly be welcome any time, and particularly in a recession.
  4. We need to create a streamlined licensing program for nuclear reactors.  Utilities, particularly ones dependent on coal today, need a realistic option to continue to provide power at reasonable cost in their communities.  Solar and wind are just not reasonable alternatives today.  Nukes are the only carbon-free scalable generating technology we have.

Again, I don't think the dislocations required here are worth the effort, but this is the best way to do it if we must.

Postscript: By the way, here is one thing no one is telling you.  Folks in Congress have tossed around carbon and fuel tax ideas that might add, say 25 cents per gallon.  But if we are truly in thrall to the climate alarmists and take their recommendations, then Co2 outputs must be reduced 50-80% in this country.  We are talking about reducing Co2 output to levels before 1920!  To do this will require a truly massive tax.  Just to scale it, over the last year gas prices doubled by about $2 a gallon, and total miles driven fell by less than 5%.   Europe is at around $8-$9 gas and are nowhere near these climate goals.  I don't think it would be too much to say that gas prices would have to top $20 to reach these goals.

This is why I think the most likely case for climate regulation is that we will have some kind of tax or cap system but that this system will be far short of anything that will really reduce Co2 or even stop its growth.  The costs are just too high, and the benefits too shaky.  You can see that in Europe, as countries back off Kyoto goals  (and even Kyoto goals are far short of what alarmists think we need to be hitting).  And any progress they have made against Kyoto goals has mainly been accidents of changing enconomic and political structures rather than the result of any real targeted action.  What we will get is something that costs a lot without accomplishing much, but will make the left feel better about themselves.  Sound familiar?

A Civics Lesson in One Sentance

A month or two back, I was participating in the California Regional Council of Rural Counties annual meeting.  At this conference, I was there to have a sort of informal debate on climate change with Joe Nation, a former California State legislator and currently a private consultant on climate issues.

To some extent my role was frustrating for the audience, because they were already stuck with complying with California's AB32 (a sort of state CO2 cap and trade system) and arguing that such legislation was pointless only served to upset them  (my presentation, both in powerpoint and video is here).  By the way, we often lump "government" together, but I can tell you that while the governor and the legislature of California may be 100% behind CO2 alarmism, the county commissioners were very sympathetic to the skeptic position.

Anyway, towards the end of my presentation I made a plea for a carbon tax over cap-and-trade, and said in fact that California's AB32 was living proof of my argument.  The California Air Resources Board (CARB), which is tasked with implementing the plan, has already added hundreds of people to its staff and worked for over two years, is still no where near finished with rule-making.  The complexity, and the battling political constituencies, is simply mind-boggling.  It is already clear that the result is going to be a Byzantine, Rube Goldberg structure of detailed industry-specific reporting and permitting rules.  Nearly 100% of CARB's time is taken up today with various groups running to them begging for some sort of special treatment (think "carbon bailout" and you will get the idea).  No one thinks the process is fair or rational.

Under cap-and-trade, every single industry will report greenhouse gasses, have industry and firm-specific limits, myriads of permits, etc.  For example, we had detailed discussions that day of how cattle flatulence will be treated and measured.  The alternative is a carbon tax, which is dead simple.  There is one single rate to set - the tax per weight of carbon in fuel.  Fuels with more carbon per BTU, like coal, thereby get higher taxes.  The system works like a sales tax, and could be administered by the BOE (who runs the California sales tax system) in its sleep.

The cap-and-trade system is far more expensive than a carbon tax.  By the basic laws of supply and demand, both systems have to raise the cost of burning certain fuels by about the same amount to get about the same reduction in use.  But the cap-and-trade system brings a huge overhead burden, both in government bureaucracy as well as compliance costs, that make it far, far more expensive for the same amount of benefit.  Until he started sitting on the boards of companies who depend on these inefficiencies in the cap and trade system to make money, Al Gore advocated a straight carbon tax over cap-and-trade.

But we had an opportunity that day.  Because the man who claims to be the author of AB32 is none other than Joe Nation, who was right there in the room.  So we asked him why he took this approach.  Here is what he said, really a civics lesson in one sentence:

I tried pass a carbon tax first, but there was absolutely no support for it among legislators [the same ones who overwhelmingly supported AB32]

If you can understand why this is, you can understand a lot about government.   Because all these concerns that you and I might have about crafting rational public policy are not important to legislators.  Here is how they think about it:

  • Private implementation and compliance costs are meaningless to legislators.  There is no public measurement or accountability for these costs, and most of these costs fall on businesses, who can be ignored as unsympathetic in political discourse.  I operate in Mono County, California, and they put out a new set of reporting requirements driven, they said, by the needs to save a few hours a year of their auditors' time.  But compliance with these new rules costs our company 10-20 hours, at least, a year.  And we are just one of many, many companies reporting.  I complained that it was crazy for them to ask taxpayers to spend hundreds of hours of labor to save them just a few, but they could not have cared less.
  • For legislators, particularly in California, creating large new bureaucracies is good.  It creates a patronage relationship between the legislators and these new government employees that is almost quasi-feudal.  Public employees are an enormous source of support for incumbent politicians, and these bureaucracies also offer future employment opportunities for legislators once they leave office (nice article here).
  • First, last, and always, the vast majority of politicians are gutless.  That means if they can pass the same tax in a way that is more hidden (ie cap-and-trade vs. carbon tax) they will prefer this approach, even if it means the tax is substantially less efficient.  In the case of cap-and-trade, since costs are hidden and spread around like peanut butter rather than easily identifiable, they can pretend the costs don't exist and, if someone starts worrying about rising electricity costs that result, simply blame the rising costs on the evil power/oil/coal/etc companies.  Obama has brilliantly taken this one step further, by outrageously claiming, in the broken windows fallacy of all time, that cap-and-trade will actually boost the economy through green job creation.
  • A carbon tax gives politicians very little room to extract personal value from the electorate.  Really, there is only one number for everyone to argue over.  But cap-and-trade is a Disneyland for lobbyists.  There can be special exemptions, industry specific caps, firm-specific caps, geography-specific caps.  Once everyone sees the first few guys giving campaign donations and parading into CARB for special treatment, everyone feels like they have to in order to avoid being the one guy left out.  My guess is that cap-and-trade will spawn more lobbying than any other legislation in US history.  And politicians, no matter what their public stance, love lobbying, because everyone who comes to ask them for something knows there has to be a quid pro quo.

Update:  A number of related thoughts and posts here, at Reason.

Why Politicians Favor Cap and Trade over a Carbon Tax

There are a lot of incredibly good reasons to favor a carbon tax over cap-and-trade if we simply most reduce CO2 emissions.  Even a minor inspection of the inner workings of the California Air Resources Board under their AB32 cap-and-trade style program provides lists of examples of abuses, rent-seeking, inefficiency, etc. under cap-and-trade.  But Joe Nation, one of the California legislators who authored AB32, told me that he could not get even a 5-cent gasoline tax through a legislature that enthusiastically embraced the 100x (or more) expensive AB32.  Why?  Silly rabbit, because public costs of cap-and-trade can be fudged, hidden, ignored, and, when they absolutely have to be recognized, blamed on private companies.

Via a reader, here is our Arizona governor discussing the costs of cap-and-trade in Arizona:

Napolitano brushed aside questions of what effect the plan will have on utility rates.

"First of all, that it may increase electric bills doesn't mean it will increase them now," Napolitano said.

Brave, isn't she?  They are already preparing the story line to blame private industry for future price increases:

Napolitano said there is "lots of data" to suggest that utilities
eventually will be able to save money "by moving to a system of 'green'

Fox said that, on a long-term basis, there may be cost savings.

You get that?  We smart government guys conducted a lot of really high-power circle jerks among graduate students and the consensus was that forcing the electrical industry to obsolete much of its current capacity and rebuild with some other uproven but more expensive technology would save them money in the long term.  If utilities raise prices, it's because they were not smart enough to figure out what we already know and they are just greedy capitalist pigs so blame them for the price increases, not use faithful public servants.  You see?  Cap-and-trade is like money laundering for taxes.  The tax is there, but its hidden well enough that a lazy media will not bother to trace it back to its owner.

But I wouldn't want you to take my assertion on faith (as Obama does with his 5 million green jobs promise), so lets look at what will have to happen.

The exact goals are hazy, but it appears our governor has committed the state to cutting CO2 emissions by 15% over the next 10 years.  One of the main ways that calling CO2 "pollution" is misleading is to imply it is some kind of combustion by-product, like soot or SO2, that could be scrubbed out.  But it is not.  It is fundamental to combustion.  So a 15% cut in CO2 emissions is 10-15% cut in power generation  (we likely get numbers lower than 15% by assuming cuts in production are preferentially from higher carbon sources like coal plants). 

So, basically this law requires the state's electrical utilities to obsolete 10% of its installed capacity, and either a) have tons of rolling blackouts; b) raise prices enough to force a large cut in demand  (remember, demand must be cut 10% AND all future growth must be halted); or c) the industry must spend hundreds of billions of dollars to build a ton of capacity in some other technology.  Option a will never fly politically.  Option c is almost sure to fail as well.  The permitting and construction processes can take decades.  From a cold start, I don't think its possible to rebuild 10+% of the states generation capacity in 10 years, either in nuclear or some other not-yet-ready technology.  The numbers simply don't work.  The only possible way I can imagine is maybe to install a zillion natural gas turbines, but to make the CO2 balance work out, you probably would have to rebuild 15% or more of the capacity, not just 10%, because there would still be some carbon emissions. 

Really, realistically, one is left with option b.  Prices are going to go up (just they would have to in option c to pay for replacement production capacity).  The price increases would be about as much as the carbon tax would have had to be to get the same effect, but price increases are corporation's fault while taxes are politicians' fault.  See?  The only good news is that the price increase will go to private players rather than the government.  That is until someone thinks to put in a windfall profits tax on utilities that are making lots of money on the government-enforced shortage.

Cap and Rent-Seek

Just the other day, I made the point that just because regulated corporations support a regulation does not mean that said regulation is sensible or good for the economy.  Often, incumbents are beneficiaries of industry regulation, which tends to give them certain advantages over new entrants.  I showed an example with General Electric and the new energy bill regulating light bulbs:

we see that GE has a product sitting on the shelf ready for release
that fits perfectly with the new mandate.  Assuming competitors don't
have such a technology yet, the energy bill is then NOT a regulation of
GE's product that they reluctantly bow to, but a mandate that allows GE
to keep doing business but trashes their competition.  It is a market
share acquisition law for GE.

Marlo Lewis makes a similar point, this time in relation to cap and trade systems:

I can't count how many times I've heard that line of
chatter"”and from people who usually assume anything corporations are
for must be bad!
There are many reasons some corporations
support cap-and-trade, or at least say nice things about it in public.
Some companies seek the PR value from looking green....
But in the case of energy companies, many who support
cap-and-trade do so in the expectation that they'll get a boatload of
carbon permits from the government"”for free!
Permits represent an artificial, government-created
scarcity in the right to produce energy. The right to produce energy is
very valuable, especially where government restricts it. The tighter
the cap, the more valuable each permit traded under the cap.
And this is a major problem with cap and trade that no one talks about:  It is a huge government subsidy and protection of existing competitors against new entrants.  Because in most systems, current competitors receive a starting allotment of credits for free, but new entrants who want to start up and compete against existing companies must purchase their credits.  This is tolerated in Europe, because that is how the European quasi-corporate-state works, with politicians and large corporations in bed together to protect each others' incumbency.  But it creates a stagnating economic mess, ironically locking in place the very companies and business models environmentalists would like to see overtaken by new ideas and entrants.

Frequent readers know that I am not convinced the costs of man-made global warming exceed the costs of abating such warming.  However, if we are going to do so, a carbon tax makes so much more sense, in that it avoids the implicit subsidies of incumbents and reduces the opportunities for rent-seeking and political shenanigans.  Politicians, however, live for these rent-seeking opportunities, because they generate so many campaign contributions.  They also favor hidden taxes, as cap-and-trade would be, over direct taxes, such as the carbon tax, because they are, well, gutless.

More here on cap-and-trade vs. carbon tax.

HT:  Tom Nelson

The New Energy Bill

If you want to have mood lighting in your house that dims and doesn't turn everything a weird color, then go out and stock up on light bulbs today because the new energy bill just passed**.  I have already blogged plenty about the stupid stuff in this bill, but apparently Kevin Drum thinks its a good step.  I don't see how anyone of any political stripe can see this as a good bill.  Its just stupid in so many ways.  Yes, I understand as a libertarian, my energy bill would look like:

  1. get out of the way

But I can for a moment place myself in a position where I would imagine being worried about CO2 and dependence on fossil fuels.  For someone who really cares about these things, here is what a rational energy plan would look like:

  1. large federal carbon tax, offset by reduction in income and/or payroll taxes
  2. streamlined program for licensing new nuclear reactors
  3. get out of the way

** I personally have replaced most of the bulbs in my house, out of rational economic self-interest, with CF bulbs.  However, there are about 6 where CF's just won't do the job I need and about 6 more (3 above my shower and 3 outside) where current CF bulbs do not hold up to the moisture.   The desire by government to micro-manage me into using an inferior solution for these 12 locations is the same compulsion that has led to my not having a single toilet in my house that works  (the shower also sucked too until I figured out how to remove the government-mandated flow restricter from the shower head).

Regulation Protects Industry Incombents

I often see folks who are arguing for increased government regulation of some industry observe that "even those greedy corporations in this industry support this new regulation."  For example, if a power company takes a public position to support greenhouse gas emissions, then that is used as evidence that such regulation must really be necessary if even the to-be-regulated are in favor.  Greg Craven makes such an argument in his global warming video that I refuted the other day.

There are two very good reasons a company in such a position might publicly support even a bad regulation.  The first is basic politics and PR:  If the regulation appears inevitable and has public support, then it is sometimes better to get out ahead of it and try to curry favor with politicians and the public to manage the regulation's implementation.   We all know corporations give donations to political candidates, but look at how they give them.  Corporate donations correlate far better with "who is expected to win" rather than "who would create the most favorable regulatory environment for the corporation."  In fact, corporations are highly likely to give donations to both candidates in a closely-fought election, and a lot of their giving is after the election, to the winner of course.

The other good reason that companies support regulation in their industry is because a lot of regulation is either designed to, or effectively, helps incumbent companies against new entrants.   I have talked about this many times with the questioning of licensing.  Global warming regulation and carbon trading systems in particular give us another great example:

BBC News understands the industry will be allowed to increase emissions
as much as it wants by the European environment council. Aviation is
the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases. But Europe's
environment ministers look set to reject a plan for a strict cap on
emissions from planes. Instead, airlines will be given a set number of
permits to pollute.

Instead, airlines will be given a set number of permits to pollute.

they overshoot their limit they will be allowed to buy spare permits
from firms who have managed to cut emissions elsewhere - manufacturing
industry, for instance.

So, current airlines in Europe will be given carbon permits that presumable support their current business level.  However, any new entrant, or any current player wishing to take market share from another airline, must spend money on carbon credits to grab this market share, carbon credits the current established incumbents got for free.  This in effect becomes a tax on market share gains.  This European-style protection of large corporations is typical, and is why the 30 largest companies in Europe are nearly the same as they were in 1965, but are completely different in the US.

This is also why, though I don't think expensive action on CO2 is justified, I think that if we do so the approach must be a carbon tax rather than cap and trade.   But cap and trade has so much potential for political hijinx and giving special deals to the politically influential that my guess is that politicians will want cap and trade.

Not a Bailout?

I was watching CNBC over lunch and saw that Alan Greenspan has criticized the President's plan for freezing the interest rates on some adjustable rate loans.  He argued, and I agree, that it is bad to mess with contracts and markets, and bad to stand in the way of a real estate bubble that needs to correct.  He said that if the government feels sorry for certain mortgage holders, it should give them cash.

I am not too excited about giving away cash to people who made bad financing decisions, particularly since I have successfully weathered a couple of tough years in my business brought about in part by rising rates on our businesses adjustable rate loans.  However, I am very much a supporter of being as open and up-front as one can be in government taxing or spending.  For example, I prefer direct payments to farmers rather than price supports.  I prefer a carbon tax to CAFE-type mandates.  In both cases, while both alternatives probably cost the economy about the same in total, the cost-benefit tradeoff is more clear in the first alternative.  Which is why, predictably, politicians usually prefer the second alternative. 

All of this pops into my head because apparently the President's reaction was that he preferred his plan to a "bailout."  Huh?  How is his plan any more or less a bailout, except that the exact costs are more hidden and who pays the costs are more obscure.  The only real difference is that Greenspan's approach is probably less likely to set bad precedents for the future or to make mortgages more expensive for the rest of us, which the President's plan almost certainly will.

Why a Carbon Tax is Superior

I don't think that government action on greenhouse gasses is justified.  That's not to say that man is not helping nature warm the planet some, its that the man-made warming, when you strip away the exaggerations, does not justify the cost of preventing it.  Since I wrote 80+ pages on it here, I won't delve much further into it. 

However, if we are going to take action, a carbon tax is way, way better than cap and trade.  I used to think that cap and trade made more sense, but I have changed my mind.  Cap and trade systems have a lot of potential for error and abuse, but there is one issue that is not adequately discussed:  They are also a huge subsidy and protection for current businesses, effectively penalizing new entrants.

Why?  Because most cap and trade systems begin by giving out emissions credits to current industry incumbents.  These are credits that new entrants will have to purchase, tilting the playing field in favor of current industry leaders.  This is the kind of thing Europeans love, because their largest business interests effectively control the government and keep out new competition, causing their economies to stagnate.  Steven Milloy is one of the few folks raising the red flag on this issue:

the LCEA, the federal government would annually issue rights or
"allowances" to emit GHGs. In the first year of the bill, slated as
2012, allowances would be issued for approximately 6.65 billion metric
tons of GHGs. The amount of allowances slightly decreases every year "“
for example, 6.59 billion metric tons in 2013, 6.53 billion metric tons
in 2014, etc. "“ until it finally levels out at 4.82 billion metric tons
in 2030 and beyond.

These allowances have monetary value "“ a lot.

of allowances can either use them to pay for their GHG emissions or
they can sell them to other emitters who need allowances. Emitters can
also simply pay the federal government directly to emit GHGs at a cost
of $12 per metric ton of carbon dioxide starting in 2012. This price is
slated to increase annually by the inflation rate plus 5 percent. By
2030 "“ and unrealistically assuming that no inflation occurs "“ the
pay-to-emit price would be about $27.50 per metric ton of carbon

Using the pay-to-emit price, the GHG emissions
allowances issued by the federal government in 2012 will have a
potential market value of $80 billion. The annual market value of these
government-issued allowances will rise to over $100 billion by 2018 and
hit $130 billion in 2030. It will only take about 10 years "“ exclusive
of any inflation "“ for value of the allowances issued by the government
to exceed $1 trillion.

And incredible as it sounds, the bulk of
these allowances "“ 76 percent for the first five years, declining to 47
percent by 2030 "“ will be given away at no charge to special interests
including private industry, farmers and states. This global warming
giveaway works out to a total of $1.34 trillion of free money "“ not
adjusted for inflation "“ that would be handed out to global warming
special interests from 2012-2030. After 2030, the annual amount of free
money handed out is about $65 billion, increasing by 5 percent per
year, exclusive of inflation.

Unfortunately, politicians will always favor an indirect tax over a direct tax because they are gutless and entirely free of any nagging principles.  Cap and trade systems would raise consumer prices at least as much as a carbon tax, but the price increase would appear to be made by industry and not due to a visible government tax.  Congress can point the finger at industry and say, it's not our fault, it's those greedy guys in industry driving up prices.

Further, the carbon tax is hard to game.  Everybody pays.  But cap and trade - Oh the beautiful potential to milk various constituencies for donations!  If the government sets up a program where some groups get credits for free, and some have to pay for them, well of course every industry is going to pour millions upon millions into politician's hands trying to make sure they are in the favored group. 

What a mess.  We are already seeing the huge distortions coming from nutty ethanol subsidies, and that is due to the pressure of just one industry (farmers and ADM).  Just think of the distortions form this program.  There may be a good chance that misguided attempts to manage greenhouse gasses may well be the largest threat to the American economy and free marketplace, well, ever.  Which, by the way, is why every Marxist and socialist on the face of the earth are right at the forefront of the global warming movement.

If you suspect that the world may be warming, but not nearly enough to justify such costs in terms of both dollars and lost freedom, you might want to read this.

Senate Passes Massive Farm-Subsidy Bill

Though it is nominally called an "energy" bill, the Senate just passed the largest farm-subsidy bill in history:

The legislation would require ethanol production for motor fuels to
grow to at least 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a sevenfold
increase over the amount of ethanol processed last year. It also calls
for boosting auto fuel economy to a fleet average of 35 miles per
gallon by 2020, a 40 percent increase over current requirements for
cars, SUVs, vans and pickup trucks.

The evidence is absolutely unequivocal that corn-based ethanol doesn't reduce net energy use, since it takes at least as much energy to grow and produce as it provides.  It is even worse as environmental policy, since it almost certainly increases total pollution and CO2 production, particularly as ethanol is produced with Midwestern coal-powered electricity.   In addition, it is going to cause marginal lands and open space to be brought into corn production, reversing a 70-year trend in the US towards increases in wilderness and forested land.  It is going to increase fuel costs to no real purpose.  This is dumb, dumb, dumb.  So stupid that I can't even get the energy to criticize the new CAFE standards.  If they really wanted to meet their goals, a carbon tax would have been cheaper and more effective, but that would have taken political guts.

The Call-Your-Bluff Tax

Ross McKitrick has suggested a variation on a carbon tax that in effect challenges both Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) believers and skeptics to put their money where their mouth is.  I, for one, would accept this challenge.  He proposes a carbon tax on a sliding scale:

Suppose each country implements something called the T3 tax, whose U.S.
dollar rate is set equal to 20 times the three-year moving average of
the RSS and UAH estimates of the mean tropical tropospheric temperature
anomaly, assessed per tonne of carbon dioxide, updated annually. Based
on current data, the tax would be US$4.70 per ton, which is about the
median mainstream carbon-dioxide-damage estimate from a major survey
published in 2005 by economist Richard Tol.

He chooses the "tropical tropospheric temperature anomaly" because that is effectively the canary in the underground mine.  According to AGW theory, the troposphere (the lowest 10km of atmosphere) will be warmed more than the earth's surface.  McKitrick also says that AGW models show the tropics will be warmed more than high latitudes. 

This tax rate is low, and would yield very little emissions
abatement. Global-warming skeptics and opponents of
greenhouse-abatement policy will like that. But would global-warming
activists? They should -- because according to them, the tax will climb
rapidly in the years ahead.

The IPCC predicts a warming rate in
the tropical troposphere of about double that at the surface, implying
about 0.2C to 1.2C per decade in the tropical troposphere under
greenhouse-forcing scenarios. That implies the tax will climb by $4 to
$24 per tonne per decade, a much more aggressive schedule of emission
fee increases than most current proposals. At the upper end of warming
forecasts, the tax could reach $200 per tonne of CO2 by 2100, forcing
major carbon-emission reductions and a global shift to non-carbon
energy sources.

Global-warming activists would like this. But so
would skeptics, because they believe the models are exaggerating the
warming forecasts. After all, the averaged UAH/ RSS tropical
troposphere series went up only about 0.08C over the past decade, and
has been going down since 2002. Some solar scientists even expect
pronounced cooling to begin in a decade. If they are right, the T3 tax
will fall below zero within two decades, turning into a subsidy for
carbon emissions.

At this point the global-warming alarmists would leap up to slam the
proposal. But not so fast, Mr. Gore: The tax would only become a carbon
subsidy if all the climate models are wrong, if greenhouse gases are
not warming the atmosphere, and if the sun actually controls the
climate. Alarmists sneeringly denounce such claims as "denialism," so
they can hardly reject the policy on the belief that they are true.

the T3 tax, the regulator gets to call everyone's bluff at once,
without gambling in advance on who is right. If the tax goes up, it
ought to have. If it doesn't go up, it shouldn't have. Either way we
get a sensible outcome.

I think many skeptics would jump at such a proposal (as long as there is some control on AGW supporters "restating" and "correcting" the satellite readings -- there is nothing AGW scientists are better at than "correcting" historical numbers that don't fit their story line).  One reason is that we skeptics know one of the AGW dirty little secrets:   In fact, against all predictions of the theory, the troposphere has been warming less than the surface.  Also, while I get conflicting inputs on whether the tropics or the northern latitudes should warm more, but if McKitrick is correct, the fact that the tropics have been warming less than higher norther latitudes (but more than southern latitudes) is also an inconsistency.  In case you don't keep a full set of tropospheric temperature histories sitting on your desk, here are several from Global Warming at a Glance.

Warming for the lower troposphere in the tropics, note the 0.2C anomaly (click any image for larger version):


Here is the lower troposphere for the Northern Hemisphere above the tropics which is warming more than the tropics, with a 0.3 degree anomaly


And here is a comparison of Global lower troposphere temperatures (in blue) vs. one compilation  by the GIS of measured surface temperatures in red.  Note the divergence, which is exactly opposite of what AGW theory says has to happen, given the surface temps have a 0.5 to 0.6 degree anomaly  Note that this may be because of some serious biases to ground based temperature measurement, but then that would mean that global warming is over-stated.


Look for my upcoming "Skeptical Layman's Primer to Anthropogenic Global Warming" or email me for a pre-release beta copy.