Rep. John Dingell (D) might seem like the last guy to want a big new tax aimed squarely at Americans' gas guzzlers. For more than 50 years in Congress, he's represented southeastern Michigan - home to thousands of US auto workers.
But the Democrats' "dean of the House" is calling for a whopping tax on gasoline and other emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that scientists say causes global warming. Whether he really believes that's the way to address climate change - not to mention keeping his seat in Congress - is another matter.
Representative Dingell admits he's proposing a carbon tax just to prove that Americans don't really want to make big changes in their energy-rich lifestyle. Asked last weekend in a C-SPAN interview whether people would be willing to pay higher prices because of energy legislation, Dingell said he doubted "that the American people are willing to pay what this is really going to cost them."
He continued:"I will be introducing in the next little bit a carbon tax bill, just to sort of see how people really feel about this. And it will impose, for example, on gasoline a 50-cent tax. It also will place a very substantial tax on CO2 emissions, amounting to a double-digit tax on tons of CO2 emitted. And I think, when you see the criticism I get, you'll understand that you will be getting the answer to your question."
Dingell's carbon tax proposal - whether faux or sincere - has got the blogosphere humming.
Writing on the liberal website TomPaine.com, Bill Scher, online editor for Campaign for America's Future, notes that Dingell has been sending mixed messages about his intentions on global warming:"It's been unclear if that's because his views were evolving in a positive direction, or he's trying to keep environmental critics off-balance.... If the only guy bringing up a carbon tax is explicitly doing it disingenuously, it is more likely to fizzle out than spark intra-party warfare. Unless, of course, he can get such a proposal on the floor, and get enough anti-environment conservatives to join him in inserting a carbon tax 'poison pill' to sink House energy legislation."
Patrick Kennedy, in a post at BlueClimate.com, speculates that Dingell's true motive is to head off tougher vehicle mileage standards under the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program:"Dingell, the auto manufacturers' best friend, has been opposed to raising the CAFE standard for years. Speaker Pelosi has recently said that she expected the CAFE standard to come up as part of the climate legislation in the fall rather than during consideration of the House energy bill. …