In the Arena

There Will Be An Energy Bill…soon.

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Why? Because there is a Supreme Court ruling, now three years old, that carbon dioxide is a poison that needs to be cleaned up. Next year, the Environmental Protection Agency will begin regulating the hell out of Co2. The business community won’t like that, nor will many Republicans. “Putting a price on carbon is the only alternative,” says Senator Maria Cantwell, who has offered a bill–with Maine Republican Susan Collins as co-sponsor–that would force the 2000 top polluters to participate in an auction to purchase the right to spew; 75% of the income would be returned as a “dividend” to taxpayers, the other 25% would go to alternative energy. “There’s no question that we will have a bill before the EPA regulations kick in.” (Senator Lindsey Graham told me something very similar a few months ago and said he was certain that more than a few of his Republican colleagues would vote for putting a price on carbon.)

And so, yesterday’s death of environmental legislation should be considered a pre-election maneuver. Given a choice between taxes and potentially punitive regulations, the wise–the more elegant; the less expensive–choice is a tax every time. (Which is why I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a tax on toxic financial-derivative trading in the Financial Reform bill.) It is an essential conservative principle: you tax the things you want to discourage. Pollution is certainly one; dependence on foreign fossil fuels is another–and that’s why I hope the next iteration of energy legislation is called: The National Defense Conservation Act.