Commentary: Utah can’t afford a new energy tax

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mia Love, Representative for Utah's 4th Congressional District, addresses the delegates at the Utah Republican Nominating Convention Saturday, April 21, 2018 at the Maverik Center.

Energy in any form is essential in our daily lives. In Utah, we have both fossil and renewable energy resources and we are a net energy supplier to neighboring states. Put simply, our resources are valuable, and any legislation regarding these resources should focus on decreasing costs and improving efficiency to make the essentials in our lives more affordable and accessible.

Yet, House Climate Solutions Caucus members, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., recently introduced a carbon tax bill that would create a new energy tax on more than 80 percent of the energy we use. It would also immediately increase our gas prices by five cents per gallon and would continue to increase the tax every year after that. This bill would be detrimental to Utah families and businesses, because it stands to increase energy costs while offering no measurable environmental benefit. Because of the harm this legislation would cause to Utahns, Rep. Mia Love, and her fellow Climate Solution Caucus members should strongly oppose it.

Love has a strong record of advocating for solutions that benefit Utahns. She voted in favor of a simpler tax code with lower rates and supported decreasing regulations to promote innovation and business growth in our great state.

However, Love voted against a resolution introduced by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., that denounces a carbon tax and declares such a tax to be detrimental to our economy. Essentially, the purpose of a carbon tax is to make much of our energy — like gasoline, diesel, coal and natural gas — more expensive, so that people will use less of them and be forced to switch to more expensive alternatives. This could cost an average family hundreds of dollars every year in higher energy taxes and is the wrong approach.

Love's rationale for voting against the Scalise resolution might be that she thinks trading a carbon tax for getting rid of EPA regulations could work. And indeed, the Climate Solutions Caucus’ carbon tax bill would establish a "rolling moratorium" on EPA's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regulations to go along with the new economy-wide tax. However, the moratorium included in the bill could possibly be revoked every four years, creating extreme regulatory uncertainty. Furthermore, it would expire with certainty in 2033, which would leave all the impacted industries with both an economically harmful carbon tax and the burden of EPA GHG regulations.

Another possibility for Love voting against the resolution might be that she thinks a “revenue neutral” carbon tax could work. But even if one could create a perfectly revenue neutral tax (something no one has ever managed to do), it would still damage our economy by growing our bureaucracy and creating market inefficiencies. It would never shrink – only grow.

A carbon tax is poor public policy and the Curbelo-Fitzpatrick bill would be detrimental to our state. It would increase the cost of most kinds of energy — namely, the kinds that American families, truckers and businesses rely on every day — and would unfairly burden many unrelated industries to pay for our highway system. Utah deserves better policy that improves the health and economic wellbeing of our state and our country as a whole. Love, and the whole Utah federal delegation, need to consider how a carbon tax would affect their constituents and work to ensure that Utah families and manufacturers continue to have access to the affordable, reliable energy they need.

Billy Hesterman | Utah Taxpayers Association

Billy Hesterman is the vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.