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France’s Highest Court Strikes Down Carbon Tax

1 min readBy: Joseph Bishop-Henchman

Earlier this year, France enacted a carbon taxA carbon tax is levied on the carbon content of fossil fuels. The term can also refer to taxing other types of greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane. A carbon tax puts a price on those emissions to encourage consumers, businesses, and governments to produce less of them. of €17 per ton (approximately $25), which was to go into effect January 1, 2010. But this morning, the Constitutional Council, which passes on the constitutionality of laws, rejected the tax.

Much like our own House of Representatives with the cap-and-trade bill, the French evidently crammed the carbon taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. bill with exemptions for politically connected industries and businesses, with the net result that only consumer purchase of gasoline and heating oils would really take a hit.

The court found that the exemptions would lead to the tax not being uniformly imposed and fairly borne, as well as destroying the law’s stated purpose of reducing carbon emissions.

What’s Up With That blog has links to the decision (in French) and their mostly successful efforts to translate it into non-legalese English. President Sarkozy, who pushed hard for the tax, will probably try to re-enact it. The ruling does not impact the separate EU cap-and-trade scheme for CO2.

Many U.S. state constitutions, as well as the U.S. Constitution, have similar requirements that legislation be “necessary and proper” (i.e., related or even essential to the stated purpose) and “uniform.” I am skeptical, though, that our judges take such requirements as seriously as French judges evidently do.