Archive for the 'Energy' Category

Underreported Congressional Bullets

Congress is mulling over the following things, at the moment, not that most Americans have heard about them.

  • Speaking of sin taxes, Congress is contemplating a series of “lifestyle taxes,” including, most infamously, a tax on non-diet soda to help pay for health care reform. The rationale is that high-sugar soft drinks contribute to obesity. Well, so do La-Z-Boys and Snickers. One of the reasons sin taxes are palatable is they generally enjoy support from tax-hesitant constituents — even prohibition had its share of popular support at the time. I don’t think soda is seen as enough of a public evil for this to fly, especially given the absurd number of industries up in arms over this. Kudos for creativity, though.
  • Continue reading ‘Underreported Congressional Bullets’
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Carbon Offsets

Robert Frank was a busy man today. He wrote this post for FiveThirtyEight.com, defending the notion of carbon offsets, and penned this column for the NY Times, doing the same. The idea behind carbon offsets is that, rather than reducing your own carbon emissions, you pay someone else to effectively cancel out those emissions by planting a tree or destroying something else that emits a lot of CO2.

Here’s a pull-quote that I think sums up his argument pretty well (via 538):

Suppose you live in a northern city with normally mild summers and are considering buying a bedroom air conditioner to ease you through the occasional brutal heat wave. Your choices are between a highly efficient model that sells for $500 and a less efficient one that sells for only $300. Because you’re concerned about global warming, you feel obligated to buy the more efficient model. But because you use your air-conditioner so infrequently, buying that model won’t actually help much. You’d do much more to curb global warming if you bought the cheaper model and used the money you saved to buy carbon offsets.

Make sense? Sure it does. But offsets aren’t without their critics, especially among environmental groups. The argument against it is a primarily moralistic one — allowing people to buy carbon offsets instead of improving their own behavior is (1) morally shady and (2) doesn’t address the root of the problem, people emitting carbon.

Frank links, in both articles, to CheatNeutral.com, which compares buying carbon offsets to paying other people not to cheat on their wives to offset all the nasty extramarital jollies you keep pursuing. This complaint makes particular sense with reference to Al Gore’s buying carbon offsets to compensate for his 221,000 kWh mansion. Carbon offsets shouldn’t be a license for rich people — especially idealisitic ones — to pollute.

Continue reading ‘Carbon Offsets’

Sin Taxes, or How to Raise Revenue Part I

Even those who subscribe wholeheartedly to Keynesian counter-cyclical government spending get a bit squeamish when it comes time for the government to actually, you know, spend. And there’s a reason for that. Federal programs, no matter how good of an idea they are at the time, rarely die off after their original mandate has run out.

Case in point: the Agriculture Adjustment Act. It was originally created during the New Deal to help control oversupply in the cotton market by literally paying farmers not to grow cotton (and other commodities) on their land. Well, mission accomplished. But farmers still see subsidies from this program (now the Agriculture Adjustment Agency), and, of course, even when it was needed, it went disproportionately to big landowners rather than the small farmers who needed it most. (That isn’t to say that the Agriculture Adjustment Agency doesn’t do useful things now, but the bottom line is, it’s awfully hard to take away a subsidy that may no longer be justified.)

When removing some of these New Deal era subsidies gets discussed, farmers, rightly, point out that without the subsidy, the drop in revenue will merely get passed on to the consumer. It’s self-perpetuating.

Now, we know that the Obama administration is going to start a lot of programs, and we know that they’re going to cost a lot. So, other than cutting costs in other areas (which, frankly, isn’t going to offset new spending no matter how often Obama says he’s going through the budget “line by line”) how is the government to pay for this?

Continue reading ‘Sin Taxes, or How to Raise Revenue Part I’


About the Author

Brian Eason is a University of Missouri graduate with bachelor degrees in Journalism and Political Science. He has covered Congressional elections and local government for the Columbia Missourian and worked as a general assignment reporter for the State Journal-Register in Springfield, IL. Brian has also had articles published in Roll Call.