A group of senior Republican representatives met with White House officials this week to discuss implementing a carbon tax as a way to replace the Obama-era climate regulations they plan to kill.
The new Climate Leadership Council proposed a rising carbon tax that would start at $40 per ton, according to The Washington Post. Money earned from the tax would be returned to every American through the Social Security Administration. The council hopes the tax will reduce emissions and help combat the risk of climate change.
"I really don't know the extent to which it is man-made, and I don't think anybody can tell you with certainty that it's all man-made," James A. Baker, who is on the council, told The Washington Post. "The risk is sufficiently strong that we need an insurance policy and this is a damn good insurance policy."
The idea of a "revenue-neutral" carbon tax is not novel, but it could be seen as a step forward for environmentalists who are fighting an uphill battle against a Republican Congress and a new president bent on dismantling President Obama's climate-friendly regulations. Progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders had proposed a carbon tax on the campaign trail, but it was part of a larger, more holistic approach and called for the money to be invested in climate-friendly innovation, not sent back to American taxpayers.
In Washington state, a similar proposal fell apart when progressive environmentalists couldn't agree on what to do with the money: invest in innovative environmental tech or put it towards other social programs.
Michael Gerrard, a Columbia University professor who teaches classes on environmental law, said he does believe a carbon tax would be one of the best ways to deal with climate change, though he was clear that he hadn't seen any details of the proposal.
"If it were properly structured and high enough it would send powerful signals throughout the economy and spur tech development and emissions reductions," Gerrard told A Plus. "I might prefer using some of the money for research and development and other purposes, but if they were at a table talking about a carbon tax that would be a major step in the right direction."
According to Baker — a well-respected Republican who served as Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan — the bill would put about $2,000 back into the pockets of the average family of four. He noted that this would surely increase the number of constituents who wanted climate-friendly regulations and that the deal would be fundamentally progressive because every American, regardless of income, would receive the same amount.
Nathaniel Keohane, the vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund and a former advisor to President Barack Obama, said that the test of any climate proposal is whether it will reduce or scale down emissions at the pace needed to avoid dangerous climate change. A carbon tax could be a critical piece of that puzzle.
"The most important thing about this proposal is who it is coming from," Keohane told A Plus. "Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our generation and we are going to need strong voices on both sides of the political spectrum proposing solutions."
Still, it likely faces some insurmountable challenges. President Trump has vowed to unleash the energy sector, kill regulations and has endorsed the idea of extracting more fossil fuels in the United States. Gerrard also had his doubts about the feasibility of passing such a bill.
"Republicans come in many shapes and sizes and this proposal comes from sort of the establishment wing of the Republican party which seems to have been repudiated by Trump voters in the election," Gerrard said. "I'm glad that this proposal is out but it doesn't come from the faction that won the election."
On the other hand, Trump's secretary of state Rex Tillerson has publicly endorsed a carbon tax, and the bill could be seen as a fair compromise for progressive Democrats who want to tackle climate change quickly. NASA scientist James Hansen and Citizens' Climate Lobby both support a carbon tax. Even Mitt Romney tweeted his support for deal.
If the Trump administration shows little interest in supporting a carbon tax, the issue is sure to linger.
Currently, 21 youth plaintiffs are suing the U.S. government for climate change. On top of that, there's reason to believe the growing green energy movement may take over the market even without incentivizing regulations.The total number of jobs from wind power recently cracked 100,000, according to the Department of Energy. That milestone means wind power now employs more than nuclear, natural gas, coal, or hydroelectric power plants.
While the carbon tax proposal may be a long way off, it's an encouraging sign tha tsome Republicans are ready to take their seat at the table on the climate change discussion.
Cover photo: Shutterstock / Yuriy Vahlenko.