Fight Global Warming by Taxing 'McMansions,' Dingell Says
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Since 08-12-07

By Randy Hall Staff Writer/Editor
August 10, 2007

( - The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week announced a plan to fight global warming by reducing carbon emissions up to 80 percent by the year 2050. This would be done by raising gasoline taxes 50 cents per gallon and ending mortgage tax deductions on large houses, which the Michigan Democrat called "McMansions."

During town hall meetings in Ann Arbor and in Dearborn, Rep. John Dingell said he will make these proposals as part of a multi-tiered bill he will introduce on Sept. 1 in his committee, which handles legislation dealing with global warming.

Some home-contracting firms, however, criticized Dingell's proposal as misguided and economically detrimental. And some conservative tax experts agreed, noting that Americans already pay too much in taxes and raising taxes more will only curtail consumption and investment.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)Dingell said his measure will call for an economy-wide tax of about $100 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions; a cap-and-trade system that limits emissions but allows companies that pollute beyond their limits to buy credits from industries that produce less than their allotment; and provide extra funding for research on renewable energy.

But the congressman's most controversial recommendation was to take away the mortgage interest deduction for "McMansions," which he defined as homes larger than 3,000 square feet and which use more energy than smaller houses.

"These are all new ideas," Dingell said. "I know I'm going to catch hell for them," but "if we are serious about global warming, we need to reduce consumption by making it more expensive."

"This will be the most difficult undertaking in my career," said the 81-year-old congressman, who has spent more than half a century in Congress. "We need to do things that are difficult, costly and will require sacrifice from all of us."

Dingell was joined at the town hall meetings by representatives from several environmental groups, including Clean Water Action, the Ecology Center, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Wildlife Federation and Environment Michigan.

Dingell acknowledged that industry executives, environmentalists and many residents will probably not agree with all of his recommendations. But he stressed that "it's time to act," a sentiment echoed by Hugh McDiarmid, Jr., a spokesman for the Michigan Environmental Council.

"Congress has stalled far too long on urgent changes needed to contain global-warming impacts," said McDiarmid. "Immediate action is needed."

However, Dingell's proposals were called "ill-informed and misguided" by Eric and Mark Guidobono, custom builders in the congressman's district.

"Where is all of this going to end?" asked Eric Guidobono, president of Guidobono Building, in a news release. "People in large homes already pay big property taxes and are taxed to the max now. Eliminating a tax break that all homeowners get just because your home is larger is a very bad idea that needs to be stopped now!"

Mark Guidobono, president of Cambridge Companies, added: "The truth is that larger homes being built today are far more energy-efficient than the ranches of the '50s and colonials of the '70s. Maybe Mr. Dingell should look for ways to stimulate the housing industry instead of trying to harm it."

H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) -- which advocates private solutions to public policy problems -- told Cybercast News Service on Thursday that Dingell's proposed legislation will have at least one positive result.

"When it comes to global warming, Congress has been long on talk but short on action," Burnett said. "The special climate change committee has been a bust, yielding more press statements and photo-ops than concrete proposals."

But "by introducing a bill significantly hiking energy taxes to reduce energy use -- and thus slow greenhouse gas emissions -- Dingell will lay bare the hypocrisy in Congress," he added.

"After all, at a time when consumers are screaming for relief from high prices at the gas pump and on their electric bills, it's unlikely they're going to support candidates who vote to increase the costs of energy," Burnett stated. "Thus, it's unlikely a new energy tax will get a majority of support in this, or any, Congress, despite their rhetoric otherwise.

"Regardless of whether we attempt to slow warming through new energy taxes or a cap-and-trade approach, the costs will be quite high, will harm the poor the most and, by most estimates, will do little or nothing to prevent global warming," he said.

Dingell's reception by environmental activists at the town hall meetings, incidentally, wasn't entirely positive.

Outside the gatherings, several protesters -- many from the left-wing Greenpeace -- wore red T-shirts and carried signs criticizing Dingell for his stand on Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which represents what auto companies in his district support and not the tougher standards environmental groups have demanded.

The protests took place despite the congressman's attempt on Monday to greet Greenpeace organizers who temporarily relocated to the state by giving them a "Michigan welcome basket" containing "some of our finest Michigan-made products."

"Sometimes, it can be overwhelming to come to a new place, but the people of Michigan's 15th district are the best in the world," Dingell stated in a news release. "Welcome to our home. I know that you will enjoy your time here."