After being scrupulously ignored by both campaigns, the climate issue managed to crash the party in the waning days of the election in the form of Hurricane Sandy, swaying the choice of at least one undecided voter in the process.
The momentum has continued and climate policy made it into both President Obama's election night speech and his first post-election press conference. The president's remarks are being parsed in various quarters for what they signal about his commitment to addressing the issue in his second term (for examples see here, here, and here). From Tuesday’s press conference:
[I]f the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that.
I won’t go for that.
If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support.
Could a carbon tax fit that bill? At first glance, no: in isolation, a tax dampens economic activity. But the elephant in this particular room is tax policy, and the impending perfect storm of the expiring Bush tax cuts combined with the debt ceiling and budget sequestration. In that context, a carbon tax could be part of a package of fiscal reforms that are more efficient and raise more revenue than the existing U.S. tax structure.
This week, RFFers participated in day-long workshop hosted by the American Enterprise Institute on the multiple policy dimensions of a carbon tax. A good resource for getting up to speed on the issue is this Carbon Tax FAQ, released by RFF's Center for Climate and Electricity Policy. And the upcoming issue of Resources magazine contains an infographic (below) demonstrating how the boom in natural gas could affect the outcomes of carbon tax.
Whether this is at all politically likely is an open question. Rob Stavins remains skeptical and for good reasons. Raising taxes and climate policy are not exactly a pair of proven political winners. On the other hand, at the very least a carbon tax is looking substantially more plausible than it did a month ago and interestingly enough has support from across the political spectrum. (Obama noted in his press conference that this is a regional as much as an ideological issue).