GOP strategists praise carbon pricing (as a way to win votes)

  • Published on February 13th, 2020

The Republican party admittedly has no national climate plan. To climate deniers, this is fine. But Republican strategists are warning that younger voters really do care about the climate crisis, and, without Generation Z’s votes, the party is on tenuous ground. Enter carbon pricing.

“Sunset over Newport Bridge,” by Carolyn Fortuna


Who’s speaking up?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has gone on the record saying that we need conservative solutions to address climate consequences.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) forecast that Republicans who look the other way at the climate crisis may face an existential crisis of their own.

But how will the Republicans go about finding a climate voice that is consistent with their states rights / security is all / limited government bandwagon? Climate action usually points to regulations, subsidies, and/or pricing. Of them all, Republicans seem to be shaking off their sour expressions when they hear the phrase “carbon pricing.” It’s a market-based solution that offers a cost-effective and fiscally conservative entré into clean-energy innovation.

Of course, carbon pricing has a downside: some Republicans fear that putting a price on carbon could hurt ordinary Americans, grow the size of government, and harm the competitiveness of American manufacturers. A Washington Post article written by George P. Shultz and Ted Halstead disputes these ideas and sets out a pragmatic rationale for carbon pricing that Republicans can buy into (pun intended).

Deconstructing the Carbon Pricing Opposition

The authors start with the concern that a price on carbon would hurt working-class families and reduce living carbon taxstandards. They counter that all the net revenue raised would be returned directly to the US people through equal quarterly checks. They claim it’s a plan where families would win financially.

A June 2019 poll of 1000 voters nationwide by Luntz Global found that participants support such a carbon dividends concept by a 4-to-1 margin, and Republican voters under 40 by a 6-to-1 margin. The pollsters summarize that “The Climate Leadership Council’s solution, called Carbon Dividends, was met with across-the-board support.”

The carbon fee, by extension, would be self-financing and revenue-neutral, “making it the fiscally conservative choice while eliminating any risk of a fiscal drag.” Reframing the cost as derived from harnessing the power of the market and leveraging the vast resources of the private sector for innovation and investment, the authors suggest that carbon pricing could actually shrink the size of government by rendering less efficient regulations unnecessary. The result? Businesses would have “regulatory certainty” to make long-term investments in clean energy. (The topic of Trump administration environmental deregulation has been of some fervor here at CleanTechnica recently.)

Shultz and Halstead readily admit that there is a current absence of national climate policy. As a result, “a proliferation of state and local energy mandates and regulations” has resulted, and the authors admonish individuals who hesitate to buy into carbon pricing to beware the surge of federal level mandates and regulations under a future Democratic White House. They shudder at the notion of a Green New Deal, which they complain is “the heavy-handed and growth-inhibiting alternative that may lie ahead.”

Torn about what to do? A carbon fee, they say, will solve your woes, as it will justify replacing and preempting less cost-effective carbon regulations of this type.

The final action the authors outline would be border carbon adjustments that extend the reach of domestic carbon pricing to imports. Exports, they say, would protect the competitiveness of US-based companies. They poke China and India, saying the United States is more carbon-efficient than companies in those high-emitting countries, to the point where US manufacturers would actually gain a competitive advantage with carbon pricing.

Interestingly, in these times of partisanship, it’s not just Republicans who support carbon pricing. A few months back, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) shared his position on carbon pricing with CleanTechnica.

“A carbon fee like the one I’ve introduced is the single most important action we can take to curb emissions on the scale needed to prevent catastrophic changes,” Whitehouse said at the time.

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(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica. Image: “Sunset over Newport Bridge,” by Carolyn Fortuna. )

About the Author

Carolyn writes from her home in RI, where she advocates with her lake association for chemical-free solutions to eradicate invasive species. She’s an organic gardener, nature lover, and vegetarian (no red meat since 1980) who draws upon digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+