GOP group calls for a carbon tax to fix climate change. Will Trump listen?

  • Published on February 9th, 2017

A group of Republican elder statesmen, including veterans of the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II administrations, has put together a solid proposal to deal with the reality of climate change with a carbon tax. It’s a good plan that a lot of environmental groups could get behind. But probably not the current crew of maniacs in charge of the Republican Party.

By Jeremy Bloom

They introduce the plan, modestly, thus:

“How a new climate strategy can strengthen our economy, reduce regulation, help working-class Americans, shrink Conservative case for climate dividends climate changegovernment & promote national security

“It’s really important that we Republicans have a seat at the table when people start talking about climate change,” said James A Baker III, George Bush Sr.’s Secretary of State. “I don’t accept the idea that it’s all man made, but I do accept that the risks are sufficiently great that we need to have an insurance policy.”

Through a centrist group called the Climate Leadership Council, Baker has lined up an impressive team of luminaries, including Reagan’s Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., and Rob Walton, the former chairman of Wal-Mart. And the plan is pretty straightforward:

  • Put a tax on carbon (oil, gas, coal) to drive the free market to discourage their use moving forward. “Economists are nearly unanimous in their belief that a carbon tax is the most efficient and effective way to reduce carbon emissions.”
  • Substitute it for Obama’s Clean Power Plan (which is too complex, but the only action he could take in the face of GOP obstruction)
  • Start at $40 a ton, and rise over time
  • Return the money to consumers as a “carbon dividend”, which would come to around $2000 for a family of 4 and rise as the tax goes up over the years. (This would also create “longevity” for the program – imagine explaining to Americans that their Carbon Dividend was being taken away from them so we could give tax breaks to oil companies…)
  • Include “border adjustments” to prevent a free ride by imported oil

It’s a pretty good plan, which incorporates many proposals that have been agreed on by everyone from Al Gore to Exxon. And with the EPA about to be gutted, and big oil allies taking positions across the Trump administration, something like this could be a godsend for the climate movement.

“For too long,” the Climate Leadership Council’s white paper says, “many Republicans have looked the other way, forfeiting the policy initiative to those who favor growth-inhibiting command-and-control regulations, and fostering a needless climate divide between the GOP and the scientific, business, military, religious, civic and international mainstream. Now that the Republican Party controls the White House and Congress, it has the opportunity and responsibility to promote a climate plan that showcases the full power of enduring conservative convictions. Any climate solution should be based on sound economic analysis and embody the principles of free markets and limited government.”

It’s hard to argue with their formula of “less government, less pollution,” but in the current DC climate, a lot of Senators and Congressmen (and certainly the Tweeter in Chief) view climate denialism as an article of faith. Which may make this heretical plan dead on arrival.

“We know we have an uphill slog to get Republicans interested in this,” Baker said entering a  White House meeting with some of Trump’s top people. But “a conservative, free-market approach is a very Republican way of approaching the problem.”

But as Bloomberg points out,

The Republican-led House last June approved a non-binding resolution condemning the idea of a carbon tax as “detrimental to American families and businesses.” …Trump himself has come out against the idea, rejecting a carbon tax in responses to a survey by the American Energy Alliance last March. Many of the conservative advocates guiding Trump’s energy and environment policy also eschew the idea.

This isn’t the first incarnation of the plan. CLC leader Ted Halstead has been pushing it for years. In a 2015 Atlantic article, he wrote:

William F. Buckley, widely considered the father of modern conservatism, once opined: “Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great.” A perfect illustration is the GOP’s current stance on climate change—an issue Buckley himself took seriously.

In the face of overwhelming scientific consensus, today’s Republican leaders… have backed themselves into a losing climate position that not only reflects poor science, poor economics, and poor strategy, but also betrays enduring conservative principles.

Get the whole plan here (pdf). And watch their introductory video:

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.