Tuesday, March 5, 2013

WaPo pro-Keystone

Very interesting editorial in today's Washington Post: they support the Keystone XL pipeline project and call for environmentalists to stop fighting it. They argue that even in the best case scenario for the protesters, emissions drop by at most 2-4%; instead, they call upon the environmental movement to spearhead the call for a higher gas tax.

At the risk of sacrificing my environmentalist cred, I have to say that this makes sense to me. Even if the pipeline is canceled, the nasty stuff from Alberta will just be sent to Vancouver and exported to China, so why fight so hard against it coming through the US? On the other hand, a gas tax, while unpopular, is the surefire way to get people to use less gas: it internalizes the externality, just like we've talked about in class. If people have to pay the full price of gas use, including the damages to the environment, they will use less. (Yes, it does bother me that it's a regressive tax, placing a heavier burden on the poor, but that's better dealt with via government transfer programs such as income tax credits.)

Think for a moment too about the economics of environmental non-profits. They need to raise money to stay alive, and it is so much easier to call for supporters to send money to fight a pipeline that won't directly affect most of them than it is to call for supporters to send money to increase the gas tax! Somehow advocating for an increased gas tax isn't a popular position to take, though O'Malley is trying to get one going here in Maryland.

Update: Tom Friedman offers the idea that environmentalists can at least use Keystone as a bargaining chip to extract more meaningful legislation. That idea makes a lot of sense to me. Also, the article talks about a new name for an old (and very useful) concept: "natural infrastructure" refers to ways in which the environment provides needed resources such as clean water or protection from storms. Interesting.

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