Tonawanda News

Columns

June 22, 2014

DUVALL: Cap-and-trade law makes sense

Tonawanda News — In a forceful op-ed in Saturday's New York Times, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson makes a convincing case for his fellow Republicans to rethink their position on climate change.

While the Obama administration has already taken steps to reduce coal-fired power plant emissions, a comprehensive approach to reducing greenhouse gas is still sorely needed. Specifically, W.'s former money man calls on Congress to pass what's known as cap-and-trade legislation, or a tax on carbon emissions. 

Of course, this is the Republican Party we're talking about so an even-handed analysis of facts isn't likely to do very much persuading — but it's worth revisiting the issue nonetheless. 

So what is cap-and-trade? Well, simply put, the federal government would put a limit on the amount of carbon emissions for every business. After a business passes that cap, they would either pay a tax or buy (or trade for) emissions from other businesses that don't use theirs.

Conservatives have reviled cap-and-trade legislation because they view it as "big government." Paulson rightly points out it's precisely the opposite.

Taxing businesses' carbon emissions would actually incentivize the private sector to find innovative new ways to power up, allowing the invisible hand of our nation's economy to address the problem rather than the government. Sounds pretty conservative to me. (The big government solution would look something like a law making everyone to put a solar panel on their roof.)

"The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response (to climate change)," Paulson writes. "We can do this by putting a price on emissions of carbon dioxide — a carbon tax. Few in the United States now pay to emit this potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere we all share. Putting a price on emissions will create incentives to develop new, cleaner energy technologies."

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