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Expand chart
Data: Knittel, 2019; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Even "modest" carbon taxes, like those seen in the chart above, would cut emissions as much as the Obama-era vehicle and power plant rules that President Trump is abandoning, an MIT economist found in a new working paper.

Why it matters: The results "underscore the economic power of a carbon tax" compared to "economically inefficient" regulations, writes Christopher Knittel, who directs the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.

The big picture: The pro-tax argument arrives as Democratic 2020 hopefuls are tossing around plans to revive and toughen Obama-era initiatives, while lawmakers from both parties have recently floated CO2 tax bills.

Driving the news: The new paper attempts to calculate what level of taxes on CO2 or greenhouses gases more broadly would provide emissions cuts equivalent to these 3 major policies combined:

  • Auto mileage standards imposed by the Obama administration.
  • President Obama's Clean Power Plan for electricity (which never took effect).
  • A 2007 law that expanded the national biofuels mandate.

But, but, but: Carbon taxes have very little traction among Republican lawmakers despite a few members' recent efforts.

  • And they've got limited cachet among progressive climate activists these days, at least as a primary weapon against global warming.
  • Leading Democratic contenders — even the ones who support carbon pricing or are open to it — aren't emphasizing them either.

Of note: The paper is limited in scope. It's exploring emissions cuts that are too small to deeply decarbonize the U.S. economy, or even achieve the U.S. goals under the Paris agreement.

  • As the Rhodium Group consultancy has noted in the past, even the wider suite of Obama policies would not have met the Paris pledge his administration submitted of a 26%–28% cut in U.S. GHG emissions by 2025.
  • However, Knittel cautioned against inferring that extremely high taxes would be needed to achieve steep emissions cuts.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

The bomb cyclone and atmospheric river seen via satellite on Sunday. The center of the storm is at the middle of the comma shape, due west of Washington State. (CIRA/RAMMB)

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

Mike Allen, author of AM
3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Fauci fires back at Rand Paul for slam on tonight's "Axios on HBO"

Responding to charges by Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday's "Axios on HBO," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told "ABC This Week" that it's "molecularly impossible" for U.S.-funded bat virus research in China to have produced COVID-19.

Why it matters: The issue 0f Wuhan research was reignited on the right last week with a National Institutes of Health letter to Congress disclosing more about the research.

Manchin, Schumer huddle with Biden in Delaware to discuss spending bill

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (L) and Sen. Joe Manchin (R) at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 13, 2014. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will meet with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday morning in Delaware as Democrats look to reach an agreement on the massive spending measure.

Driving the news: Democrats are still negotiating what to keep in the bill and how to pay for it, with Biden saying on Thursday that the party does not have the votes to raise the corporate tax rate.