Conservative think tank AEI brings carbon tax debate out in the open

A conservative think tank will host a forum next month on carbon tax proposals — and this time it’s on the record.

The American Enterprise Institute is the venue for the Nov. 13 event on the economics of carbon taxes, which AEI is hosting with two other think tanks, the Brookings Institution and Resources for the Future, and the International Monetary Fund.

Gilbert E. Metcalf, the Treasury Department’s deputy assistant secretary for environment and energy, is scheduled to deliver the keynote address.

AEI in July drew fire from the right for hosting closed-door discussions about carbon taxes with a group of advocates and policy wonks, and November’s conference could prompt fresh criticism. A few of the carbon tax experts who participated in the closed-door panels will speak at the November event.

However, the forum is separate from the series of private discussions about a carbon tax that have taken place over the last couple years between an ad-hoc, left-right group. 

Planning was also under way before the July closed-door meeting that became controversial in conservative circles.

AEI economist Aparna Mathur told Greenwire that the event is not evidence that AEI supports a carbon tax. “This is an academic meeting,” she said in a story published Friday.


A carbon tax would face massive opposition on Capitol Hill, but the idea has nonetheless generated interest of late, thanks to discussions in Washington policy circles and the backing of some former GOP House members. 

Carbon tax advocates call it a simpler, more efficient way to address greenhouse gas emissions than cap-and-trade proposals that collapsed on Capitol Hill in 2010. 

Some backers also see a source of revenues to battle the deficit. Other ideas include using the tax revenue to enable reductions in other tax rates or aid energy consumers who would face higher prices.

Participants at the daylong November conference include Joseph Aldy, a White House energy aide in 2009 and 2010 who is now at Harvard University, and Richard Newell, who was administrator of the federal Energy Information Administration in 2009-2011.

Others include Brookings expert Adele Morris, Ian Parry of the International Monetary Fund and others.

“The pros and cons of introducing a carbon tax in the US are the topic of many spirited debates, yet discussion of the consequences from alternative tax designs remains largely confined to academia,” AEI’s website states.

“In an effort to shed more light on this topic and its budgetary impact, AEI, the Climate and Energy Economics Project at the Brookings Institution, the International Monetary Fund, and Resources for the Future are cohosting a conference to discuss ideas for U.S. carbon tax design and options for the potential use of carbon tax revenues,” the event listing says.

— This story was updated at 4:03 p.m. and 4:18 p.m.