Making the price of carbon more honest

By George T. Frampton Jr., Co-founder of the Partnership for Responsible Growth.

A Pigouvian tax. That’s the common-sense response to Fred Hiatt’s plea in his Feb. 12 op-ed, “Don’t celebrate the budget deal. It imperils America,” that Congress “fund” the nation’s priorities. Such a levy, named for British economist Arthur Pigou, is intended to correct an inefficient market outcome.

We subsidize the burning of carbon. We all pay later for lung cancer, asthma, heart disease and the lost productivity resulting from these diseases. Its price does not include the costs of more frequent and more intense hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters that climate change is exacerbating.

By honestly pricing carbon, we could accelerate the inevitable transition to clean energy and reduce carbon’s increasingly high costs to society. Doing so would provide a second benefit: A $49-per-metric-ton fee, increasing by 2 percent a year over inflation, would generate $2.1 trillion over 10 years. Even after rebating a portion of that to lower- and middle-income households to compensate them for slightly higher energy costs, there would still be more than $1 trillion left to reduce the fast-rising national debt and address our infrastructure needs.