A reader writes:

Regarding cap-and-trade, you wrote:

"Because we actually believe that a carbon tax will bring green benefits without the kind of crude regulatory scheme that could stimgatize environmentalism for a long time? Because we think it will work better?"

Those are fair arguments, and I don't condone trying to stifle debate. But in certain cases, I'm not sure a carbon tax is being put forth in good faith (see: some on the right; Exxon). It may be giving the critics too much credit, but it feels a bit like they're promoting a carbon tax to derail a national climate policy altogether. And that's patently not helpful.

Moreover, there are two problems with your argument. You imply that a cap-and-trade is a "crude regulatory scheme". Not so. Yes, it has more inherent moving parts than a 'simple carbon tax', but it's a market-based instrument at the core. A crude regulatory scheme would be a hodgepodge of technology standards and other blunt instruments that lack incentives for innovation and efficient emissions reductions--essentially the bulk of our environmental policy since the 1970s. Second, as Romm points out, there is, for all intents and purposes, no such thing as a "simple tax." A carbon tax policy, should it make it through the Congressional process, would emerge snarled with exemptions, rebates, and the like, making it possibly just as messy as cap-and-trade. (More on this from a recent blog post at TNR)

As for whether it will "work better", I think that comes down to the environmental econ 101 argument about prices vs. quantities--whether we want to ensure that our climate policy is sufficiently low-cost (tax) or whether we want to meet a particular emissions target (cap-and-trade). A tax isn't inherently more "effective"; you have to define the goal.

But let's assume we can get a "simple carbon tax", although not without some work. If I adamantly believe a carbon tax is a 'better' policy, but I know it has little chance of success at present, do I continue to argue in favor of it? Or do I make concessions to political feasibility and support my second choice? Assuming we could pass a cap-and-trade policy this year, what delay would be acceptable to get a carbon tax passed instead? 5 years? 10?

(Oh, and how do you suppose we could stigmatize environmentalism any more than we already have?)

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