The US must impose carbon tariffs on China

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Conservatives are understandably skeptical of many of the “solutions” offered by the Left to attempt to mitigate climate change, which environmentalist activists suggest is caused by a combination of cows emitting methane gas and humans emitting carbon dioxide into the planet’s atmosphere. In order to address this problem, these activists seek to reduce the “carbon footprint” of everyone — by force.

The Green New Deal, for example, is quite obviously a totalitarian takeover of our entire economy. Not only does it prop up losing industries while sabotaging winning ones, but it would impose a giant tax on working families in the form of higher energy prices and higher food prices. The American Action Forum analyzed the Green New Deal shortly after it was first released in 2019, estimating that the energy and environmental provisions alone would cost taxpayers between $8.3 trillion and $12.3 trillion, or between $52,000 and $72,000 per household. Many of these provisions have been incorporated into the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which is being debated in Congress.

The Paris climate accord, first signed on to by President Barack Obama, rejected by President Donald Trump, and rejoined by the Biden administration, requires that the United States reduce its carbon emissions significantly while simultaneously allowing countries such as China to emit even more into the atmosphere. It’s hard not to see this agreement as anything other than an internationalist plot to soak the U.S. for all we’re worth. We pay the bill, and China gets the last laugh — it recently announced plans to build more coal-fired power plants and ramp up its oil and gas exploration. Not good!

Even a wonkish idea such as imposing a “carbon credit” system presents its own set of problems. Carbon credits again put the onus on the public to change the weather by ourselves, while other countries, many of which are adversaries actively seeking to disrupt our interests, offset our efforts with their own increasing emissions.

Conservative skepticism on this issue goes beyond just substantive policy disagreement. Many of us just can’t get over the obvious hypocrisy. While we might not be well versed on the specific dangers of cow flatulence, we certainly know cow excrement when we see it. If climate change is such an existential crisis, why are celebrity environmentalist activists flying around the world on private jets? If the oceans are set to rise dramatically and imminently, why did the Obamas spend $11.75 million on an oceanfront mansion at Martha’s Vineyard? Why is the Left so averse to nuclear energy, which could solve the emission problem overnight?

Forgive us for falling prey to common sense. Perhaps this is less about solving climate change and more about punishing America.

But if we did want to embrace a bipartisan approach to combating climate change, one that even conservatives such as myself might support, maybe we could borrow some ideas from Trump’s approach to trade policy. Any U.S. climate change policy must ensure that other countries do their part to reduce their own carbon emissions. Why not make China pay its fair share by enacting tariffs that kick in for carbon-intensive products?

Trump understood that working-class people were getting a raw deal from free trade agreements such as NAFTA. He recognized that the so-called “experts” in Washington who sang the praises of free trade were completely out of tune. Sure, gross domestic product increased, but at what cost? For decades, middle America watched Wall Street billionaires celebrate their gains while millions of good-paying jobs were shipped overseas. Thousands of previously vibrant towns were completely devastated.

Trump had a more inclusive definition of success, one that went beyond the skin-deep economic metrics of the past. To begin the process of rebuilding, Trump embraced a “Make America Great Again” agenda that included tariffs on countries such as China. While many Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., balked at this, Trump insisted that tariffs would address our trade imbalance and help bring back quality jobs long term by forcing our adversaries to stop cheating the public and pay us what they owe.

Unfortunately, President Joe Biden has largely abandoned that agenda, instead favoring the whims of multinational corporations and radical left-wing activists. But two Democrats seem to get it. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and Rep. Scott Peters of California have proposed a “border carbon adjustment” tariff that would bring in somewhere between $5 billion and $16 billion annually.

The tariff would tax carbon-intensive imports such as petroleum, coal, aluminum, steel, iron, and cement, leveling the playing field for producers. Coons and Peters have hinted that the tariff could be expanded later to include more carbon-intensive products. This is important because China benefits enormously from its weaker environmental standards, allowing it to send cheap products to the U.S. at the cost of our manufacturers, our workers, and, if you buy into the climate change mania, our environment. Enacting a border carbon adjustment tariff would immediately put U.S. producers at an advantage over their foreign competitors.

Truthfully, I’m not convinced that we are going to be able to change the weather in a meaningful way. But if we’re going to try, we might as well embrace a “Make America Great Again” agenda at the same time. Right now, America is handicapping itself with climate policies and letting adversaries such as China enrich themselves at our expense. By not holding our adversaries accountable for their emissions, we are effectively subsidizing them and helping them destroy us. By charging imports for their emissions, we can turn the tables on China and start shifting production and investment back to the U.S.

Terry Schilling (@Schilling1776 ) is the president of American Principles Project.


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