Building carbon taxes in the air

In August 2011, Honolulu Civil Beat reported that a State Department of Health task force recommends a carbon tax in Hawaii. After the debate on carbon taxes at the federal level, and narrowly avoiding international agreements about carbon emissions and “reparations” to developing nations, I was flabbergasted.

 The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Task Force reported, “Four Task Force members strongly recommend that there be a carbon tax in order to: 1) Provide incentives and a funding source to achieve HCEI+ goals; and 2) Help mitigate impacts to disproportionately burdened households.”

A December 2009 report by ICF International also recommended a carbon tax, explaining that “A carbon tax imposed by the State would differ from a cap-and-trade system in that the amount of the tax would be fixed and could be increased on a pre-defined schedule; providing a progressive price signal to consumers. It would also differ in that revenues received under such a system would accrue to the State, however, if a carbon tax were introduced in conjunction with a federal cap-and-trade system it would be additive and not a substitute for the cap-and-trade costs.”

The whole debate on carbon taxes is based a few assumptions. Let’s take a moment to think about them:

Assumption #1: There a problem with carbon emissions in Hawaii. The Task Force reports that “Although Hawaii’s total emissions are a small part of the world’s output, its per capita emissions are similar to other U.S. states.” But it assumes that Hawaii, surrounded by thousands of miles of open ocean and favored with year-round trade winds, has dangerous levels of carbon and nothing else is being done to lower emissions.

Assumption #2: Hawaii has the authority to tax carbon emissions. The State and its paid consultants certainly assume that it has the power to tax carbon emissions. The Federal government believes it has the power to tax carbon emissions too. What do you think?

Assumption #3: A carbon tax will solve the problem. A carbon tax might discourage the use of gas and electricity, encourage alternative energy sources like solar power, and promote alternative means of transportation like city buses. Or it might just make things the cost of living and doing business in Hawaii more expensive. In my opinion, a carbon tax is merely another source of revenue for the state and another form of welfare for “disproportionately burdened households.”

Assumption #4: Government has unlimited powers of taxation. According to government, if we do something, or if we don’t so something, government can tax it. And taxes never go away. Ever. Taxes may increase or decrease, but once there’s a precedent, it becomes government’s “right” to tax or not to tax. But think about the precedent: if government can tax carbon emissions because it “owns” clean air, will there come a time when government can tax the air we breathe?

Can Hawaii impose a carbon tax? Should it impose a carbon tax? Or is Hawaii building a carbon tax in the air, one without a foundation? What do you think?

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