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Taxing Pollution, Another Great Idea We Won't Discuss

Should we tax pollution more aggressively? My colleague Brad Plumer makes the case for “yes” over at Ezra Klein’s blog, where he’s a guest poster this week. And I think he makes a compelling case.

We need more revenue and we need to reduce carbon emissions. OK, you already knew that part. But did you also know that we do less than most countries to put levies on pollution? I didn’t know that, although I suppose I would have guessed if I had thought about it.

Brad supplies a graph that makes the point clearly. It displays the percentage of revenue that OECD countries get from pollution taxes and, yes, that little tiny bar all the way at the left is the United States:

Of course, the chances of enacting new carbon taxes or anything like them right now seem altogether remote. And that’s a reminder of just how skewed the conversation about budgets and deficits have become, particularly among the small group of elected officials trying to hash out a deal.

Taxing pollution is hardly a radical notion: As Brad notes, four of the six groups that put forward deficit reduction plans included some form in their proposals. Even the conservative American Enterprise Institute endorsed the idea. If conservative proposals to undermine the welfare state are part of the discussion between the parties, then surely pollution taxes and other more liberal ideas, like a public option in health care, should be too.

That they aren't is good reason to worry where, exactly, these talks will end up.