The Climate Lobby Of The Right’s Push For A Carbon Tax

In this deeply divided and partisan political universe, it may come as a surprise there is strong bipartisan agreement on solving climate challenges with a tax on carbon emissions.

There is wide agreement the climate action clock is ticking and we must reduce carbon emissions. The general consensus is we must reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Putting a tax on carbon is seen by both the political right and left as the quickest and most efficient way to reach that goal.

Nearly every Democratic presidential candidate endorsed some version of a carbon tax in the recent CNN climate town hall. However, Democrats aren’t standing alone in embracing the proposal. Moderate, establishment Republicans, as well as the business community, have proposed a tax on carbon similar to many Democratic proposals. 

One might assume all Republicans have fallen in lock step behind President Donald Trump and his climate change denials. The reality is, many Republicans fear by dismissing climate concerns they will ultimately destroy their chances at recruiting young conservatives concerned about the climate.

Frank Luntz, Republicans’ longtime message guru, has completely reversed his position as a climate denier and is now embracing a moderate Republican carbon tax proposal. 

Many conservative Republicans are genuinely worried they will be left out of the debate and won’t be allowed to offer conservative approaches to solving the climate crisis if they continue to deny climate change is happening.

Much of the concern is driven by pragmatic conservative business leaders who understand the monumental costs associated with a changing climate will adversely affect their bottom lines. Many business leaders have built projected climate change effects into their business models. They understand a rapidly changing climate has the potential to disrupt supply chains, increase costs and destroy markets. 

While progressives, through the Sunrise Movement, student activism and Democrats’ introduction of the Green New Deal have grabbed climate headlines, there also is an active climate lobby on the right.

In 2017, two former members of Republican administrations, James Baker, secretary of state under George W. Bush and George Schultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, formed the Climate Leadership Council [CLC]. The council lobbies in favor of a price on carbon that gradually would rise over time. Their approach would raise the price of all carbon-based fuels, and in turn make renewable energy more economically competitive.

The CLC’s market-based approach returns all the revenue generated through the carbon tax to consumers. This progressive tax protects consumers as their energy costs increase. Surprisingly, the CLC’s proposed price on carbon has drawn support from the most unlikely business allies, including major fossil fuel companies.

Democrats in Congress have introduced several different versions of carbon tax proposals.

House Resolution 763, the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act“, closely resembles the Baker/Schultz proposal by retuning all tax revenues to the public. The bipartisan bill has more than 60 co-sponsors in the House and is supported by the Citizens Climate Lobby [CCL] — a key national climate lobby groups. CCL is active in Iowa and has lobbied for a carbon tax with Iowa’s senators and representatives for several years.

Other proposed carbon bills put an increasing price on carbon, but differ in the amount returned to the public. Some of the revenue generated by a proposed carbon tax would be used to finance new infrastructure, invest in renewables and support climate mitigation projects.

The momentum on addressing climate change has accelerated following CNN’s seven-hour-long climate town hall with Democratic presidential candidates. A worldwide climate change strike planned for Friday likely will further raise public awareness on the importance of climate change and bring additional calls for urgent action.

There is a growing consensus that numerous carbon tax proposals offer a climate solution that both the left and right can support. Trump remains a climate denier and is reversing much of the progress the Obama Administration advanced.

Replacing Trump and electing a Democrat could start to reverse all the damage Trump has done and set a new path for climate action. Democrats now have allies in the business community and among moderate Republicans for a carbon tax. This offers hope a Democratic president would have the political support to implement rapid climate action.


By Rick Smith
Posted 9/18/19

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