Climate Change, US Debt and Deficits: House Reps Urge Congressional Colleagues to Put a Price on Carbon

Fiscal 2013’s budget battle is now officially under way in Washington D.C., as President Obama submitted the administration’s proposed budget for the coming year. Budgetary debates and controversy were heated enough this past year, all but shutting down the federal government, and they’re sure to get even hotter given this year’s elections.

Congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle in both houses can agree on an urgent need for prudent fiscal discipline at a time when significant financial system and economic risks persist. They differ wildly on the need for counter cyclical economic and fiscal policy, however, as well as how best to guide the US economy forward into the 21st century.

Perhaps nowhere is this political divide as wide or as apparent as it is regarding climate change, environmental and energy policy. Despite the weight of scientific and empirical evidence, Republicans have not only effectively squashed any serious attempt to enact proactive federal climate change and clean energy policies, they continue to push hard to maintain and expand US reliance on fossil fuels.

That’s not to say that proponents have given up on such efforts, however. In fact, climate change and clean energy are likely to be defining and distinguishing issues for Democrats and Republicans as 2012 progresses.

House Reps. Push For Carbon Price

As reported by The Hill, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), former Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) wrote an op-ed article published in the Washington Post asserting that the nation’s most pressing fiscal and environmental problems could be addressed by enacting a straightforward piece of legislation: the imposition of a price on carbon.

“The United States could raise $200 billion or more over 10 years and trillions of dollars by 2050 while cutting carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050,” they wrote.

Speaking subsequently to Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein, Waxman acknowledged that getting Republican opponents to sign-off on such a policy isn’t any more likely than it has been to date. He pointed the alter

natives are even more problematic, however, arguing that passing an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax was the best practical alternative, one that would result in significant deficit and debt reduction, while at the same time providing economic stimulus at a time when it is still very much needed.

“Will it be easier to slash Medicare benefits? Make deep cuts to defense? Raise income taxes? A climate policy is the easiest way to face these challenges,” Waxman told Klein, perhaps somewhat rhetorically.

“There’s an interesting similarity in the problems of the two issues. Cumulative debt and cumulative carbon emissions are both rising,” Waxman continued. “If you look at the debt problems they’re going up and up and up and the cumulative emissions of carbon are going up as well. One can have terrible consequences for the economy and the other for our planet. I don’t think people have realized the similarities of these two issues.”

Increasing Costs of Political Procrastination

Putting a price on carbon would establish a pathway for addressing these critical issues, both of which require consistent, long-term policy frameworks and action. Inaction will only raise the cost of addressing them, Waxman emphasized.

“If we could put in place a price on carbon and then use the sales of carbon allowances to raise revenues we could raise money and cut emissions at the same time, and we can have a transition that will be as orderly as possible. If we leave both to become much more severe then the answers will be more radical and painful,” he stated.

Political opponents who acknowledge the urgency of addressing climate change still assert that establishing a price on carbon would be foolhardy given the persistent fragility of the banking system and economic recovery. Waxman and supporters refute this, citing numerous studies that indicate that a well-crafted price on carbon could both cut pollution and stimulate the economy.

“Policies can be adopted to protect our energy intensive, trade exposed policies. Policies can be adopted to avoid spikes in electricity prices,” Waxman told Klein. “But I think this is exactly the time to act because we can have a number of benefits from these policies, none more important than the jobs that could be produced by giving clean-energy entrepreneurs certainty that they can begin to invest.”

Reports and studies spanning the scientific and economic communities have shown that extreme weather events are on the rise, and that often subtle, long-term climate change effects are increasingly being seen. Whether US government representatives are will to acknowledge and show leadership on a defining issue of the times remains to be seen.

Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger
A product of the New York City public school system, Andrew Burger went on to study geology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, work in the wholesale money and capital markets for a major Japanese bank and earn an MBA in finance.

Get in Touch


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Articles

Stay in touch

To be updated with the latest climate and environmental news and commentary. Learning to live in the Anthropocene.


Latest Posts