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Need Drought Relief? Pass a Carbon Tax

J. Mijin Cha

Things that you can blame President Obama and his administration for: not implementing stronger ozone rules, an overall attack on regulations, and promoting natural gas development while ignoring the extreme economic and environmental damage caused by fracking.

Things you cannot blame the President or his administration for: short-term increases in gas prices and drought-conditions, despite what House Speaker Boehner thinks. A press release from the Speaker’s office claimed that the President continued to, “blame anyone and everyone for the drought but himself.” The idea that the President could control the weather was so dumb that the Speaker’s office amended the release to say that the President blamed everyone but himself for failing to provide drought-relief. The amended statement is less dumb, but still wrong.

Speaker Boehner claims that the Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2012 would provide relief to farmers and ranchers suffering through the drought. The bill passed quickly through the House and while the Speaker is trying to claim there was bi-partisan support, the vast majority of Democrats voted against it. For one, the bill provides support for just one year, as opposed to passing the multi-year farm bill that would have provided a more comprehensive plan. Second, while the bill provides $383 million in temporary relief, it cuts over $600 million in conservation programs. If the Republicans would have proposed a one for one cut, it would still be the wrong place to get funding, but at least it wouldn't be so nakedly political.

The drought-bill also doesn’t provide support for berry and specialty crop producers or for pork and poultry producers. So in short, it doesn’t actually provide the drought-relief needed and would result in substantial cuts to conservation programs. And, this is the crux of our problem. Instead of passing comprehensive, long-term policy, like the farm bill or a climate bill, Congress spends time passing short-term measures that are mainly for political gain and don’t actually fix the underlying problems. Why cut conservation programs to pay for drought-aid? Why not strip the fossil fuel industry of its $4 billion of subsidies? Doing so would both provide far more money for drought relief and also stop funding an industry that is directly causing drought conditions.

In fact, beyond removing public funding for the industry, we should start making it pay for the costs of climate change through pollution taxes, one form of which could be a carbon tax. Adopting a carbon tax would raise much needed revenue that could be used to help industries and individuals adapt to a changing climate. It would also incentivize reducing carbon emissions, which will help stave off the worst case climate scenario. And, it would shift the cost burden from taxpayers to the industry where it belongs.

These are the kind of policies that Congress should be adopting that would provide real relief, not just cheap political points. I won’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen.