Earl Blumenauer’s Carbon Audit

by Reihan Salam

Earl Blumenauer, a leading left-of-center congressman from Oregon, has an extremely appealing idea: why not subject the U.S. tax code to a carbon audit? Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post explained the idea last week, and David Roberts of the environmentalist news site Grist has posted a comprehensive interview with Blumenauer on the subject.

Why a carbon audit?

Part of dealing with our carbon pollution is understanding what policies contribute to it. People understand transportation impacts, impacts from energy utilization and farming practices, but one area that has as significant an impact as any is our tax code. What does the federal government do, with the way that it collects revenues, with incentives and penalties, that has an impact? We have some suspicions but we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a matter of speculation but cold, hard data.


How will this help in shaping the tax code?

This is important data for me as a member of the Ways and Means Committee. In the next congress, things have to happen with the tax code—we can’t just go on auto-pilot. There are provisions expiring, there are revenue demands, there are lots of forces at work now, so there will be changes. There’s an opportunity for reform. Having this information is going to be an extraordinarily valuable tool to do our job right.

This is exactly the kind of proposal that liberals and conservatives should unite behind. There are a number of tax provisions and regulations that undermine the ability of private firms to enhance efficiency and improve their environmental impact. What I find appalling is that it took Congress so long to allocate funds for the carbon audit. 

Note that agreeing in principle to a carbon audit does not imply accepting a cap-and-trade regime or some other carbon pricing mechanism. Rather, it will give conservatives an opportunity to identify tax subsidies that are environmentally counterproductive. I had assumed that this would be very clear.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.