President Barack Obama's speech Wednesday at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh was billed as the debut of the White House's midterm argument against the Republicans: The crazy economy he inherited. The unpopular decisions he had to make to keep the nation from falling into a financial sinkhole. And GOP obstructionism for short-term political gain.
But this line caught my attention: "The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future," Obama said. "But the only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future — if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed. And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution."
The president is right. But his method of achieving that goal isn't the optimal one.
Obama is championing efforts on Capitol Hill to pass climate change legislation that would institute a mind-numbingly complicated cap-and-trade system in which pollution allowances for covered facilities would be sold for untold sums of money. That money would be funneled to various projects that would help usher in our green future.
A year ago, we saw how ugly the process of getting similar legislation passed can be.
Finally putting a price on carbon pollution should mean a carbon tax that's high enough to change behaviors that have resulted in the national addiction to fossil fuels. One that would spark American innovation to hasten a greener future. And one that would keep within the United States money that would otherwise go to hostile regimes eager to keep us hooked on fossil fuels.
Ending an addiction such as this requires an intervention. That's what a carbon tax would be. Pity there's no political will to make it happen.
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