Jan 15, 2019

Carbon taxes are facing new troubles on the left

Bernie Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Carbon taxes are facing new troubles on the left even as the idea is beginning to slowly inch from the political wilderness on the right.

Why it matters: The posture of ascendant progressives is another reason why it's unclear if carbon taxes will ever emerge as a central federal climate policy. It's a stark contrast from a decade ago, when Democrats put a different pricing method — a cap-and-trade plan — at the center of the climate bill that passed the House but collapsed in the Senate.

Where it stands: For economists who believe pricing should play a major role in stemming emissions, it's a game of whack-a-mole. Consider...

  • Americans for Carbon Dividends — a group aligned with GOP elder statesmen and backed by major oil companies — is lobbying for a carbon tax that would nix key emissions regulations in return.
  • And, a very small bipartisan group of House members has formed around a CO2 tax proposal as well and plans to revive it this year.

Yes, but: On the left, activists working with House progressives led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have signaled that while they see a role for pricing in a sweeping Green New Deal (GND), it's far from the tip of their spear. Data for Progress' Greg Carlock tells Axios...

"A carbon price should not be the centerpiece of legislation, it should be about spending and regulations to get the economy on an ambitious decarbonization pathway. ... Carbon prices and tax may have a role, but more to change market incentives and break up concentrations of wealth and income."

They're not alone. Here are 2 more data points...

  • A recent letter to House members on climate policy recommendations from a large swath of groups on the green movement's left flank does not call for a carbon tax. And it warns against "market-based mechanisms" including emissions trading systems if they "place profits over community burdens and benefits."
  • Per NBC News, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee, who is eyeing a climate-focused White House run, has "grown skeptical as to whether Democrats should pursue a similar [carbon tax] policy nationally if it distracts from other green priorities."

The big question: What role, if any, will taxes or trading play in proposed bills from progressives in the new Congress and in the policy platforms of the White House Democratic field.

What to watch: Among other things, it'll be important to see where Sen. Bernie Sanders goes. The lefty senator, a once and maybe future presidential hopeful, has floated carbon tax ideas in the past.

  • But now he's planning GND legislation, and an aide declined to comment on whether it will include a carbon tax.

The bottom line: the biggest barrier to carbon pricing remains extremely widespread GOP resistance. But the idea is also fighting for air on the left.

What they're saying: Noah Kaufman, a pro-tax economist with a Columbia University energy think tank, is happy that the GND has elevated climate in national politics.

  • But he's also wary of carbon taxes getting the sort shrift, and similarly does not agree with the call by some activists for 100% renewable power. He prefers that a broader suite of zero-carbon options should be on the table.

Here's what he told me about the GND's momentum...

"That's great. There should be a way to applaud that and recognize the role for government investments as part of a climate package, but without creating a circular firing squad that is trying to take down policies like carbon taxes and important low carbon technologies like nuclear and [carbon capture and storage]."

Go deeper:

Editor's note: This story was corrected to show a letter from environmental groups warns against certain forms of carbon pricing. (The story previously said it did not mention the topic.)

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7:30 p.m. ET: 660,706 — Total deaths: 30,652 — Total recoveries: 139,304.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 7:30 p.m. ET: 121,478 — Total deaths: 2,026 — Total recoveries: 1,072.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump is considering a quarantine on New York, parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters that supported Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are now balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Deaths surge in Italy and Spain

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has since Friday killed 889 more people in Italy and 832 others in Spain, which announced all non-essential workplaces would close for two weeks.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 2,000 on Saturday in the U.S., which leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 121,000, per John Hopkins. The number of those recovered from the virus in the United States passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 33 mins ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus deaths top 2,000

Nurses in masks, goggles, gloves, and protective gowns at Penn State Health St. Joseph conduct drive-thru coronavirus testing in Bern Township, Pennsylvania on March 27. Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

More than 2,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus in the U.S. as of Saturday, per data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Why it matters: Recorded deaths in the U.S. surpassed 1,000 two days ago. The U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, exceeding China and Italy.

Go deeper: Trump weighs quarantine of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut