photo: Jurvetson via flickr
When last week Commerce Secretary Gary Locke made a statement to the effect that US consumers should pay for the carbon content of goods produced overseas, it seemed a good thing -- a recognition that the full environmental impact of goods ought to be incorporated into the price. At the time I had a suspicion that he was really speaking to US companies about leveling the playing field between them and their counterparts in the developing world, rather than greater eco-principles. Reuters reports that Locke has since clarified his position:A spokesperson for Locke said that the Secretary was not supporting any specific carbon tariff on goods imported to the US (which would put him at odds with President Obama) or any other policy option regarding lowering the carbon footprint of imported products -- the main thing is that US companies not get penalized by domestic action to reign in carbon emissions.
The spokesperson added,
There's an obvious concern that US companies compete on a level playing field. As the voice in the cabinet for American business, that's the concern the secretary was trying to convey.
China Should Step Up & Reduce Emissions
Locke also made clear that he thought that China should "step up" and "pay for the cost of complying with climate change," improving their energy efficiency and reducing their carbon emissions.
A Carbon Tariff Would Do Just What the Secretary Wants
The interesting thing is that a method for directly incorporating the carbon content of goods into their price, regardless of where they were produced, would go a long way towards leveling the playing field for US companies -- like Locke originally suggested. Goods shipped from China and produced through more energy-intensive means would rise in price and make locally made products that much more attractive.
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