Dave Finkelnburg

Dave Finkelnburg

Heat waves in the drought-stricken Western U.S. have brought the season of smoke to Idaho. You don’t need to be told the weather is unusually hot and has been for a long spell.

Republicans in Congress talk about our weather and the changing climate that produces it. Talking about the weather and doing something about it, though, are not the same.

The Republicans in Washington, D.C., have, so far, opposed proposals to slow our warming global climate. Such plans, they say, will raise the cost of producing products for export and put American businesses at a disadvantage in the global market.

They have a good point.

If we force energy-intensive industries like steel and cement to cut greenhouse gas emissions here in the U.S., companies in those industries could just move overseas to areas with looser environmental regulations.

We’d wind up importing the steel and cement we need. However, it would be produced with the same or even higher greenhouse gas emissions.

Congressional Democrats proposed, last Wednesday, a way to keep that from happening. They put forward what has been called variously a polluter import fee or carbon border tax.

Right now, no country in the world has imposed such a carbon tariff. The European Union, however, is considering one.

A carbon border tax would be a tariff imposed on imports based on the amount of greenhouse gases produced in the manufacture of the imports. Presumably, the fee would only be imposed on that level of greenhouse gases produced to make a product in an exporting country that is greater than the amount of such gases produced to make the same product in an importing country.

Yes, that could get complicated pretty quickly. On the other hand, it would create a mechanism to protect domestic production and prevent exporting jobs and manufacturing know-how.

Will Republicans work to block the Democrats’ polluter import fee? That remains to be seen. There is a potentially powerful incentive for Republicans to go along with it, though.

One of the countries that stands to suffer the most from an EU carbon border tax is the United States. That’s because at present the EU is the third largest export market for the U.S., behind only Canada and Mexico.

The U.S. is also a massive emitter of greenhouse gases. Yes, China emits almost twice as much greenhouse gases as the U.S. However, on a per-citizen basis, the U.S. emits about double the climate-changing pollution of either the EU or China.

An EU carbon tariff will hit American exports especially hard. The only way to head that off would be for the U.S. to get its act together and take meaningful action to slow its impact on climate change.

While President Joe Biden is pushing for a greener American economy, so far Congress hasn’t done much to make that a reality. Meanwhile, the EU is taking concrete steps toward reducing climate changing pollution coming from within the EU’s borders.

The EU has moved faster than the US to switch power production to greener alternatives, particularly wind and solar. This past week, the EU also proposed a total ban on the sale of gasoline and diesel-powered automobiles beginning in 2035.

Why hasn’t our free-market economy put the U.S. at the front of a movement to slow climate change? Why has it failed to head off what is potentially the greatest threat ever to human prosperity?

The simple answer according to climate activists is a glitch in capitalism. Capitalism, as you know, argues that private ownership of the means to produce goods and services will generate competition, innovation and the creation of wealth.

Climate activists agree, but note that many manufacturers around the globe have not been charged fairly for the air and water pollution they cause. Greenhouse gases have turned out to be a devastating form of air pollution and one that risks making our oceans acidic.

As one climate economist observed recently, using the Earth’s air and water as zero-cost sewers is what’s led to the climate change crisis facing earth. The current Republican plan is to enable continued burning of fossil fuels into the foreseeable future, thus guaranteeing damaging climate change.

A border carbon tax is a rational proposal. Republicans in Washington should embrace it.

Dave Finkelnburg is a long-time Idahoan, a former newspaper journalist, and is currently semi-retired from an engineering career.