It might only apply to industry emissions and nary a Republican would dare admit to seriously considering it, but talk of a possible carbon tax is making the rounds in political Washington and elsewhere.

Think about it. A carbon tax does not lack for support among mainstream energy and fiscal policy experts; it has drawn support from several corporate CEOs; and it could score huge points — even a few ‘green’ ones — for those trying to make a dent in the ever-expanding U.S. annual budget deficit and the nation’s overall debt.

Consider too that the soon-to-be lame duck Congress will have a strong incentive to take some action to avert the automatic, draconian domestic and defense budget cuts due January 3, 2013 if it cannot strike a compromise.

Cartoonist Roger Harvell created this to illustrate the lone voices willing to back a carbon tax. CREDIT GreenvilleOnline.com / Greenville News (S.C.) on July 12, 2012.

So what got policy analysts talking tax all of a sudden? Many ‘weather vanes’  point to the launch of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative (EandEI) July 10, 2012 by former GOP Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina.

Two days after EandEI launched, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a private gathering.  The agenda listed representatives of groups such as Public Citizen, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Brookings Institution and Resources for the Future.

According to POLITICO, the five-hour gathering was split between sessions providing an “update on posture of key constituencies” and “framing and selling a carbon pollution tax.”
 
Among those speaking at the off-the-record gathering were former Democratic Rep. Tom Downey — who last served in Congress in 1993 and is now husband to former White House climate chief Carol Browner — talk about building bipartisan support and navigating the tax-writing House Ways & Means committee, according to the agenda.
 
See the full agenda as it was first reported by the Washington Examiner newspaper in DC, here.

Now consider who and what the Energy and Enterprise is Initiative is pursuing:

In an interview with The Energy Fix, Inglis said he is aiming for conservatives, with early emphasis on College Republicans, student members of The Federalist Society and young evangelicals.

Inglis said he wants conservatives “to step forward to the competition of ideas rather than shrinking back to science denial” about climate change.

“We’ve got some firmly-held ideologies that are trying to hold back … facts and science’s distillation of those facts. History doesn’t treat well people who don’t build an ideology on facts; Joe McCarthy comes to mind for example,” Inglis said.

Enter a tax on carbon emissions, and maybe not just emissions from industrial facilities such as power and manufacturing plants.

“Any mechanism of taxing negative externalities will help get the economics right,” Inglis said. “Right now the incumbent fossil fuels are not accountable for their hidden costs.

“If we were to attach those costs to the product, then the marketplace could judge that product vis a vis other competing challenger fuels. In some cases, the challenger fuels would win.

“We’ve been using clumsy government mandates, fickle incentives and the result is, you don’t get the muscular free enterprise response delivering real solutions,” said Inglis.

“I’m looking for a price signal that causes the free enterprise system to work,” he added.

Inglis said when wind industry professionals hear him talking about eliminating all subsidies permanently, including the Production Tax Credit due to expire at year’s end, “they start gasping for air.” But “they start breathing again” when a tax would apply to all fuels.

Inglis’ philosophy is framed in part by how Citigroup economist Carlos Gutierrez defines sustainability:

“Sustainability means making a profit. If you can make a profit, it’s sustainable. If you can’t, it’s not.”