by Richard T. Stuebi
One of the bummers of having been in the energy/environmental field for so long is that rarely do I read or learn something I haven’t heard of before. It’s hard to for me get excited anymore.
Perhaps one of the silver linings of the current economic malaise is that thought-leaders are coming with novel and interesting ideas for the public sector to raise revenues. Yes, that’s right, new taxes.
Two recent examples. First, an intriguing idea put forth by Ian Ayres and Barry Nalebuff in the March 16 Forbes: a voluntary gas tax. This brings back, in different clothing, the concept of war bonds that could be marketed as a matter of patriotism to promote energy independence: citizens can optionally buy an advance tax rebate in exchange for paying an extra amount per gallon of gas purchased at the pump. If you drive little, or drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, you can actually profit from this transaction.
Second, Seattle city officials are considering a $0.20 charge per plastic or paper shopping bag. The idea is up for referendum in August, but unfortunately, it seems that the idea is on the ropes. It’s too bad, because the same idea has been in place (unbeknownst to me) in Ireland since 2002, and appears to be working well.
Although four-letter words are considered nasty, there’s no worse word in the American lexicon than that little three-letter devil. No politician can afford to raise the specter of new taxes, even when they’re desperately needed to balance budgets while encouraging more responsible behaviors.
The cap-and-trade legislation is being threatened by opponents who claim it is nothing but an energy tax (see, as an example, the March 9 editorial by the Wall Street Journal). The dirty little secret is that they’re right: cap-and-trade is a tax. Does the mere fact that something is a tax mean that it shouldn’t be adopted?
Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Later in 2009, he will also become a Managing Director at Early Stage Partners.