By Michael Greshko, National Geographic.
In an effort to address the threat of climate change, a group of conservative U.S. statesmen has outlined a plan that, by 2030, could cut the United States’s carbon emissions by up to two-fifths below 2005 levels.
At a Wednesday press conference, the newly established “Climate Leadership Council”— a consortium of Republican Party stalwarts including officials from the Reagan and both Bush administrations—unveiled their plan for a gradually increasing, revenue-neutral tax that puts a price on carbon dioxide emissions.
The Climate Leadership Council’s proposal calls for a $40 tax on each metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions, with the tax steadily increasing on an annual basis. All proceeds—an estimated $200 to $300 billion per year—would be distributed back to American citizens in the form of dividend checks. Carbon taxes on foreign imports and rebates for U.S. exports would then keep U.S.-made goods competitive, the authors claim.
In return for implementing the tax, the plan calls for cutting many current U.S. regulations on carbon emissions. In particular, the plan calls for axing the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era EPA rule that aimed to slash CO2 from power plants, which generate 37 percent of the country’s total carbon emissions. (Legal challenges have stayed the rule’s implementation.)
“If you look at the priorities of President Trump, our plan ticks every one of his boxes,” says Ted Halstead, the group’s founder and CEO. “It is pro-growth. It is pro-jobs. It is pro-competitiveness linked with balanced trade. And last, but hardly least, it would be good for working-class Americans.”
“THE CHEAPER APPROACH”
The plan comes on the heels of polling showing that increasing numbers of Americans—including Trump voters—see the value of solving climate change. Just 28 percent of Trump voters think that the U.S. should back away from the Paris Agreement. More than six in ten of Trump voters support taxing or regulating the pollution that causes global warming. (The poll, conducted by Yale and George Mason University, has a 5-point margin of error.)
To limit climate change’s worst effects, economists have long advocated for putting a price on carbon emissions. The tax would bake fossil fuels’ long-term costs on the climate and public health into the short-term price, pressuring markets toward adopting carbon-efficient energy sources. The result, according to supporters? An elegant decrease in emissions.
“It’s hard to imagine reducing emissions enough to limit dangerous climate change without carbon pricing,” said Helen Mountford, program director for the climate initiative New Climate Economy, in a previous interview. She called the general idea a “vital piece of the puzzle.” (Read more about carbon taxes and their use around the world.)
Even fossil fuel companies have thrown their support behind gradually increasing carbon taxes, since they would provide stable, predictable regulatory costs. As recently as October 19, 2016, U.S. Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson endorsed carbon taxes.