Gary Locke's Shanghai surprise

The Commerce Secretary said Americans should pay for Chinese greenhouse gas emissions


Andrew Leonard
July 17, 2009 10:29PM (UTC)

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai on Friday.

From Reuters:

"It's important that those who consume the products being made all around the world to the benefit of America -- and it's our own consumption activity that's causing the emission of greenhouse gases, then quite frankly Americans need to pay for that."

Untangle the slightly confused syntax there, and Secretary Locke is making an extraordinary statement: Americans should pay for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacturing and transport of products that they consume -- no matter where they are made. I don't necessarily disagree with that, but it's certainly a new line of argument from the Obama administration.

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Keith Johnson at Environmental Capital interpreted the statement as meaning that "rich-country consumers should pick up the tab for some of China's industrial emissions" and that "China, of course, loves the idea."

But how, exactly? I'm having some trouble parsing Locke. The Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House two weeks ago notoriously includes provisions for carbon tariffs, which would hike the price of imported goods according to the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production. President Obama is on the record as opposing such "green protectionism" and China hates it. But wouldn't any mechanism that had American consumers paying the price of Chinese greenhouse gas emissions be a tariff or tax on those goods? Or is Locke saying that we need to somehow directly subsidize China not to emit greenhouse gas emissions?


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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