Don Gale: Let’s have a carbon tax that works

Congress should move quickly to impose a so-called “carbon tax.” It’s an effective strategy for speeding up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The problem is that those who push for the tax believe they have a better chance of success if they couple it with a promise to distribute money from carbon tax revenue to “the people.” That’s a prescription for failure. Money gained from a carbon tax would be better spent on repairing the infrastructure.

First, history tells us that government money supposedly intended for “the people” will inevitably end up in the pockets of the wealthy. You can be sure that the top 10% of us will end up with 90% of carbon tax money.

Second, history also tells us that Congress has trouble figuring out who “the people” might be. For example, does it include children? Does it include the millions who are in prison or jail? Does it include those who pay taxes but are not yet citizens? Does it include the homeless, many of whom do not have mailing addresses? Congress is likely to spend years trying to define “the people” ... while carbon products continue to flood the atmosphere, insulate the earth and warm the planet. Of course, Congress will be encouraged to drag its collective feet by powerful lobbyists who have already infiltrated lawmakers’ hearts, minds, pocketbooks and souls.

It would be easier for Congress to approve a carbon tax if the money were dedicated to infrastructure improvements. Everyone benefits from that approach. Well, almost everyone. The overall economy benefits, also. And lobbyists would be more likely to jump on board, as their employers are the business enterprises that will receive lucrative contracts to rebuild roads, bridges, railroad beds, water systems, transmission lines, waste disposal facilities and other components of vital infrastructure.

Citizens also benefit, not only from improvements in the public facilities they use every day, but also from the hundreds of thousands of new jobs infrastructure projects will provide. Equipment manufacturers will be on board. Banks will be on board. Labor unions will be on board. State legislatures will be on board. Small business owners who depend on the infrastructure — especially transportation — will be on board.

In other words, dedicating carbon tax revenue to infrastructure improvements will be a win-win situation for almost everyone. Under those circumstances, Congress will be less likely to drag its nether parts.

We should also think about the end game. If all goes as expected, both atmospheric carbon and the carbon tax will eventually disappear ... or at least trail off to near zero. That, too, makes returning the tax revenue to “the people” an ill-advised strategy.

Once people – especially wealthy people – get used to receiving monthly or annual carbon tax checks, it will be extremely difficult to reverse course. At least that’s what anti-government fanatics claim – those who grouse about so-called “government handouts.”

Devoting the carbon tax to infrastructure will avoid that inevitable shouting match — at both the beginning and the end of the program.

And so by all means, let’s help save the world by instituting a tax on carbon production. But let’s use the revenue to generate long-term benefits rather than for the sake of short-term expediency.

Don Gale.

Don Gale is a long-time Utah journalist who remembers when thick black smoke hung over the valley during winter months, until regulators “encouraged” business and residential buildings to switch from coal heat to natural gas. Today’s world-wide pollution may not be as visible as yesterday’s black smoke, but it’s even more threatening to human life and our planet’s survival.