Sen. Larry Craig has become such a pariah in Congress that anytime he does something public it makes news, not for the issue at hand but because as the Huffington Post shows, it’s him, the toe-tapper who pled guilty to charges related to a sex sting in an airport men’s room.
That means anything he says is likely to be dismissed for its substance. On the climate change issue that’s unfortunate. Craig had thought about the issue for a long time certainly longer than many of his Republican colleagues.
Now that climate change is recognized as a serious problem that needs national and international solutions, Craig’s role is likely to minimal. Yet Idahoans especially need to think hard about this issue just as Craig has.
In a hearing Nov. 8 Craig revealed the weaknesses of a cap and trade program, especially for Idaho. Those places already polluted would get a valuable allocation they could trade.
"If you're a coal state, you have the allocation; if you're not a coal state you don't," CNN quoted Craig. "We get nothing but higher energy prices. There is no benefit for Idaho."
Since the cap and trade proposal is forwarded by environmentally-minded Democrats its popular with environmentalists. Since it seems to be a market-based solution some Republicans are buying on.
The alternative, after all, is a carbon tax, and no one likes taxes. The main man pressing for a carbon tax is Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who serves with Craig on the National Rifle Association Board.
He also represents the auto industry and earlier this year was the target of a campaign by the Democratic left-wing PAC MoveOn.
He supports a carbon tax because it’s the cleanest, most direct way to address the greenhouse gas problem that is at the heart of human influences on climate. In other words, if climate change is the crises that environmentalists say it is then we need to treat it like a crisis.
Dingell’s bill does. It would impose a 50 cents per gallon tax on gasoline, a $50-per-ton tax on coal, petroleum and natural gas. He also would address the third rail in tax policy the mortgage interest rate deduction, but only on giant houses.
People with homes 3,000 to 3,199 square feet in size would be eligible for only 85 percent of the mortgage interest deduction.. Homes of 3,600 to 3,799 square feet would lose 60 percent of the deduction, homes of 4,000 to 4,199 square feet would lose 90 percent and homes larger than 4,200 square feet would get no deductions.
This is tough medicine. But a carbon tax appears to be better for Idaho than a cap and trade program. Why?
For one, the proceeds go back to the treasury, not the traders, their attorneys and lobbyists. It can be used to shift tax burden from somewhere else.
Idaho already uses less fossil fuels than most other places mostly because of hydropower. A carbon tax gives the state a head start.
One reason is nuclear power. The Idaho National Laboratory is the Department of Energy’s center for new reactor program development.
Craig got funding for the start of a new reactor development program that right now most environmentalists oppose. But just like the choice between a cap and trade program and a carbon tax, environmentalists are faced with deciding whether they believe global warming is truly a crisis as Al Gore says.
If it is, the world needs every tool in its energy tool box and a strategy to reduce the threats presented by all of them. Idaho National Laboratory Director John Grossenbacher told me in June and Boise business leaders in May that a carbon tax would help revive the nuclear industry and give it the advantage it needs to replace coal as the nation’s major centralized energy producer.
He seemed to hold back because he didn’t want to rile the then politically powerful Craig. But now perhaps he and other Idaho energy experts can weigh in to what could be the most important debate of our time.