According to The Washington Post, the Trump administration is “exploring the creation of two controversial new taxes — a value-added tax and a carbon tax — as part of a broad overhaul of the tax code, according to an administration official and one other person briefed on the process.”
Generally speaking, until Trump implements policy – in the form of an executive order or through work with Congress – it’s wise to take what he says with a grain of salt. It’s also prudent to be wary of quotations from anonymous “administration officials.”
In May 2016, Trump tweeted:
.@thehill Your story about me & the carbon tax is absolutely incorrect—it is just the opposite. I will not support or endorse a carbon tax!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2016
More recently, in late-March, a White House official said that the Trump administration is “not considering a carbon tax.”
If it is indeed true that President Trump is eyeing a carbon tax – a tax to which he was vehemently opposed during the campaign – that’s bad news. A carbon tax would harm low-income families, and do absolutely nothing to combat alleged anthropogenic climate change.
According to The Heritage Foundation:
The poor tend to spend a higher proportion of their earnings on energy, particularly utilities and transportation. Moreover, some Americans use more fossil-fuel energy than others because of driving distances (rural families drive more—27,700 miles per household vs. 17,600 miles for urban households…
Douglas Elmendorf, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), adds that products made with fossil fuels (see: pretty much everything) would see price hikes under a carbon tax:
“[At] any point in which we are putting a price on carbon emissions, that would be passed through to the cost that consumers face on energy products but also all other products that are made using fossil fuels…I don’t know if there are any goods that use no energy in their production. It seems to me unlikely.”
Allegedly, the main drive for those advocating a carbon tax is the betterment of the environment. However, a carbon tax in the United States would accomplish little to nothing in the grand scheme of things. As The Heritage Foundation points out:
Even if one assumes that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to higher global temperatures, a carbon tax in the United States that reduces emissions domestically would have zero direct effect on foreign emissions if we acted alone. In fact, unilateral action by the U.S. would have very little effect on total global emissions.
The following is a 2008 chart from the EPA showing the difference in emissions if varying rules are implemented and followed. Note – the red-dashed line shows that without other nations joining the United States, any efforts to reduce carbon (by taxation or other means) are useless:
A carbon tax would disproportionately harm low-income families, and do absolutely nothing to help alleviate alleged anthropogenic climate change. Considering that, what is the real intent behind such a tax? Generating more revenue for the government, and signaling virtue.
According to The Washington Post, a “carbon tax that starts at $20 per ton would raise $1.2 trillion in the next decade.” How would such revenue be spent? We can’t know for sure, but one can make an educated guess given the way in which the federal government has spent its funds in the past. It would most certainly be squandered.
More important than anything else, however, a carbon tax would signal virtue. In other words, it would very publicly show that the United States is committed to fighting climate change. This would make President Trump – as well as other politicians who support the tax – look virtuous, benefiting them politically in the long run, even as it does absolutely nothing for the environment.
It’s a win-win-win situation. Trump and his colleagues look righteous, the government sucks up even more of our cash, and the alleged climate damage continues unabated, only to be used again later for political gain.