The US automakers have no greater friend in Congress than John Dingell. He's served in the House since the Eisenhower administration, and chairs the powerful Energy and Commerce committee. In that post, he has tangled prominently with Speaker Pelosi over global warming and the appropriate Democratic response. His refusal to go along with the fuel economy standards advocated by environmentalists has led them to mock him as the 'Dingell-saurus.' Dingell for his part, points out that CAFE standards don't hold much promise to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
But given the commitment of House Democrats to do something to fight global warming, Dingell is going to introduce a bill that chooses the simplest, most effective, and most efficient way to reduce petroleum consumption -- slap a huge tax on it:
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) will propose a new carbon tax that would increase the gasoline tax by 50 cents, the lawmaker said in an interview on C-SPAN's ‘Newsmakers’ airing Sunday.This is brilliant. It addresses man's role in global warming -- such as it is -- by reducing our use of hydrocarbons, and does so in a transparent way. Many economists (probably most) argue that if you want to reduce use of gas and/or fight global warming, the best way to do it is through a carbon tax such as the one advocated by Dingell. One who has written about it extensively is Greg Mankiw. Mankiw frequently reports on noted economists who have signed on to his Pigou Club.
In the interview, Dingell acknowledged that voters may not be willing to bear the cost of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, and that he would propose the new tax “just to sort of see how people really feel about this.”
“I sincerely doubt that the American people are willing to pay what this is really going to cost them,” Dingell said in the interview...
In addition to raising the gasoline tax, Dingell’s new proposal would institute a “double digit” tax on each ton of carbon dioxide emitted.
There are other Congressional Democrats who've endorsed the idea of carbon taxes, but it doesn't have much appeal outside of the bluest areas of the bluest states. It's also likely to get a great reception on the liberal blogs -- like this one at the Huffington Post:
If Dingell comes up with a bill that is seriously and thoughtfully designed to make steep cuts in GHG emissions, and it includes both a cap-and-trade program and a carbon fee, that will be vastly more consequential than anything happening around CAFE.Most Democrats who have to worry about re-election prefer to pretend that there easy and pain-free ways to reduce hydrocarbon use. They can't support a straightforward and honest approach, because they know that outside of San Francisco, the Huffington Post, and MoveOn, it's political suicide.
I don't think people quite appreciate what Dingell's done here. He's the first member of Congress with any power or seniority to even mention a carbon tax, much less endorse it. He's putting up a trial balloon, nudging the Overton Window. It's an opportunity for the rest of us to run with it -- to take something that's suddenly got a toehold in the realm of political possibility and pound it home...
IMO, the smarter play on MoveOn's part would have been to blast its three million members with the happy news: The fight for a carbon tax now has a key congressional ally! Tie Dingell to his words, and signal to every other member of Congress that a carbon tax is now a live issue, not a theoretical one.
For reference, the federal gas tax is now 18.4 cents per gallon. State taxes range from 7.5 to 33 cents per gallon. So an increase of 50 cents per gallon would nearly quadruple the federal tax, and would triple the overall gas tax in some states. The proposal is probably dead in the water. And if House Democrats endorse the idea... well, how much further down can they go in the polls?
Dingell knows all this of course; he doesn't intend this idea to go anywhere. It's just his way of telling Al Gore and the global warming crowd to put up or shut up.