Policymakers’ letter asks tough questions re carbon tariffs

Yesterday Ranking Members of both two House committees and two subcommittees wrote to the new U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and asked him to clarify the Administration’s position on the issue of carbon tariffs.  The letter was sparked by recent remarks of Energy Secretary Steven Chu that the U.S. was considering levying tariffs against countries that haven’t taken steps to reduce carbon emissions.

In their letter Congressmen Joe Barton, Ralph Hall, Greg Walden, and Paul Brown cautioned:

Any emissions-related trade policy will be extremely complicated.  Careful consideration of the pros and cons — and legality — of any such policy is critical.  Poor decisions can lead to destructive trade wars that could put tens of thousands of U.S. workers out of a job, and severely harm our economy.

As Congress moves on proposals for mandated reductions in carbon emissions — such as a cap-and-trade scheme — the notion is gaining that “something has to be done,” such as carbon tariffs, so that the U.S. can compete with countries that haven’t committed to emission reductions.  The Republican lawmakers — all on committees that have some jurisdiction on global warming issues — presented a list of hard and focused questions to USTR Kirk on what the Administration is planning and whether some of the serious downside risks of border measures have been considered. (The congressmen are Ranking Members on the Committee on Energy and Commerce and its Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Committee on Science and Technology and its Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.)

The letter is a formal request, and the USTR is obligated to respond to the policymakers’ questions.  Maybe this will take some of the wind out of the carbon tariff sails, especially since climate negotiators from nearly 190 countries will be meeting in Bonn, Germany starting March 29 to come up with concrete plans for what they hope will be an agreement in December.

So, in the midst of a deep worldwide recession, countries will be planning to make energy less affordable, to force some major emitters out of business, and maybe start a trade war over border tariffs.  Don’t we already have enough economic problems to contend with?

(Hat-tip: Iain Murray)