The revolt against energy taxes

The revolt against energy taxes
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North America and Western European greens are pushing climate policies largely focused on renewables such as wind and solar electric power. A major obstacle to climate policies is the perception that people are being asked to pay an early price for “carbon taxes.”  Such taxes are often used to finance wind and solar power. 

Part of the opposition to carbon taxes is that there’s no agreement on what sources of energy could feasibly take the place of fossil fuels, which supply about 80 percent of America’s energy.  Keep in mind that renewables require backup energy from fossil fuels, because the technology to store large amounts of electricity for use on days when the sun isn’t shining or the wind blowing has yet to be developed.

The emerging reality is that the United States has turned full circle in the energy sector, with oil and gas production on a major upswing.  The impact is being measured in not just energy security, but job creation and economic growth.  Renewables are no match against clean, inexpensive natural gas and other fossil fuels.

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What really brings home the new reality is a milestone achieved last year: The U.S. became the dominant producer of oil and gas in the world.  The results of this upsurge continue to have far-reaching consequences — nothing less than a rebalancing of global gas and oil. 

And the impact is becoming evident in the way oil and gas, along with coal, are viewed as engines of economic growth.  Increasing domestic energy production means that fewer dollars are going overseas and more of them are staying at home, as well as going into investment and job creation.

But things could have turned out very differently.  If a carbon tax had been imposed, the shale gas and oil revolution would have been stalled.  And the loss of even more coal plants on top of the scores that have already been shuttered in recent years would have impacted electricity reliability.  It’s likely that voters would have revolted against the high cost of climate action. 

As it is, in the mid-term elections last year, voters in Washington state rejected a carbon tax that would have required them to pay $2.3 billion in additional taxes over five years.

What’s also important to recognize is that the revolt against energy taxes is worldwide.

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Think about French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronNew photo of Trump with Kim Jong Un hung in the White House Protests storm Champs Elysees after Bastille Day parade Democrats' policies hurt those they claim to help MORE.  He used to be a media darling, lionized as the epitome of a leader with a string of political achievements.  That was before he faced the worst protests in decades from the “Yellow Vests” — and withdrew his proposal for a fuel tax hike.  Polls showed that 70 to 80 percent of the French agreed with the assessment that Macron, a climate activist who favors carbon pricing, “talks about the end of the world while we are talking about the end of the month.”

Candidates pushing for climate action in Australia, the Netherlands, Canada and elsewhere also ran into fierce public opposition.  You might think that political leaders would be engaged in some soul-searching about their obsession with raising energy taxes.

Why do candidates who inveigh against the injustices of income disparity feel obliged to propose regressive energy taxes that would hurt the little guy more than the rich?  Carbon taxes are inherently unfair, because people on modest incomes spend a larger percentage of their income on energy services.  If the politicians can’t figure this out, the voters will. 

J. Winston Porter, Ph.D., is a former EPA assistant administrator with national responsibility for Superfund and other waste programs. Currently, he is a national environmental and energy consultant, based in Atlanta.