Coal’s Election Loss Could Mean Gain for Carbon Tax

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Nov. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Coal power was a widespread loser in yesterday’s election. Despite singing its praises as loudly as possible, Mitt Romney was unable to use his support for coal to defeat Barack Obama in Virginia and Ohio.

And heavy spending by the coal industry failed to unseat Democratic Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana.

Even in Corpus Christi, Texas, the Republican Nelda Martinez won the mayoral race touting her opposition to building the Las Brisas power plant, which is designed to burn coke, a refined form of coal. (Disclosure: Bloomberg Philanthropies supports a Sierra Club push against U.S. coal-burning power plants, including Las Brisas.)

It looks as if the U.S. may be uniting around an increasingly realistic view of the health, environmental and climate costs of burning coal. Add in the economic forces acting against coal at a time of low natural-gas prices, and there’s reason to think policy makers might now be encouraged to enact a tax on carbon emissions as part of a broader tax-reform package to help reduce the deficit.

Such a tax would raise revenue even as it lowered the cost of treating asthma and heart attacks, cleaning the air and dealing with drought and sea-level rise caused by emissions-induced climate change. Today, Nick Robins, an analyst at HSBC Holdings Plc. in London, suggested that a carbon tax starting at $20 a ton of carbon dioxide equivalent and rising at about 6 percent a year could raise $154 billion by 2021, Bloomberg News reported.

As Bloomberg View has written, many Republicans already support such a tax -- including two top Romney economic advisers, Greg Mankiw of Harvard University and Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University.

Like-minded Republicans should be encouraged to put forward their own proposal for a carbon tax as soon as possible. That would keep the issue from becoming, again, too closely identified with left-wing environmentalists and allow it to build broad support.

(Mary Duenwald is an editor for Bloomberg View.)

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