In a recent guest column, Phil Kerpen rejects taxes on greenhouse gas pollution (“Reject new energy taxes with prices already soaring,” The Times Record, May 16). He asserts that taxes on fossil fuels are “ridiculous” at a time of high energy prices.

Mr. Kerpen fails to mention why most economists and energy experts recommend a tax on carbon emissions, including taxes on imports of carbon-based fuels and products: this one policy is the most efficient and effective way to address two of our nation’s most pressing problems, climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign energy sources. The transition to clean energy will take decades. It will happen smoothly only if we begin now and investors know that it will be pursued over many years, despite the ups and downs of international energy markets. In response to Mr. Kerpen one must ask: if not now, then when? We mustn’t let short run price volatility halt a policy that needs to be predictable, credible, and powerful over the long run.

Mr. Kerpen objects to the burden a carbon tax imposes on low-income households. He is wrong, for two reasons.

Number one: many studies confirm that if the sizable carbon tax revenues are given back to households on an equal per capita basis – as many carbon tax proponents recommend – roughly two-thirds of Maine households, and virtually all low-income households, are made richer by the policy. This happens because low-income households are low users of carbon, and thus receive more back in dividends than they pay in increased energy prices.

Number two: every policy that cuts greenhouse gas emissions and promotes clean energy has a cost. Because a carbon price induces everyone to reduce their carbon footprint in the fashion least costly to them, it reduces emissions at the smallest possible sacrifice. Other policies inevitably cost more. Also, import taxes are the best method of reducing imports, because they are targeted exactly at the goal of reduced dependence. Mr. Kerpen does not identify a policy that can reduce emissions and energy dependence more cheaply than would a carbon tax. He cannot, because no such policy exists.

As long as the US fails to undertake decisive climate actions on its own, Mr. Kerpen is right to object to import taxes on carbon intensive products made in countries that are not fighting climate change. But this argument attacks a straw man, because few carbon price proponents would recommend a so-called “border adjustment” when there is no domestic carbon tax to adjust for. Rather, import taxes are a necessary component of taxing all carbon consumption at home, regardless of whether products are made at home or abroad. We should tax the carbon in foreign goods only after our own house is order.

In addition, the threat of border taxes on their goods can induce other nations like China to follow the US in active climate measures. US action alone is not enough, but US leadership in conjunction with incentives to get other countries on board can go a long way. Several studies find that if Europe and the US set a significant price on carbon, then China would be better off joining in, rather than suffer a tax on their exports or engage in a trade war (as Mr. Kerpen fears).

Up or down due to international market fluctuations, fossil fuel prices are now too low. These prices fail to reflect the harm that burning fossil fuels does to our climate, our air quality, and our national security. A carbon tax will simply make prices reflect these very real, and very large, costs.

Michael Jones lives in Brunswick.

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