Yesterday, a climate-change denier was confirmed to head the EPA. This comes as Trump and the Republicans gut environmental regulations, including those preventing coal companies from dumping toxic waste into our rivers and streams.
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal.
In the midst of the crazy that is the Trump Administration–in the face of Congressional Republicans’ stubborn denial of science and evidence in general and climate change in particular, three prominent conservatives-Martin S. Feldstein, Ted Halstead and N. Gregory Mankiw– have issued “A Conservative Case for Climate Action.” They explained their plan in an op-ed in the New York Times.
CRAZY as it may sound, this is the perfect time to enact a sensible policy to address the dangerous threat of climate change. Before you call us nuts, hear us out.
The three are forthright about the fact that Republican congressional opposition prevented Obama from addressing climate change as vigorously as he wanted; he was only able to enact a handful of measures through Executive Orders, and those are likely to be reversed by Trump, who (they say with delicious understatement) “seems much less concerned about the risks of climate change, and more worried about how excessive regulation impedes economic growth and depresses living standards.”
They note that
an ideal climate policy would reduce carbon emissions, limit regulatory intrusion, promote economic growth, help working-class Americans and prove durable when the political winds change.
Hard to argue with any of those goals.
After listing a number of other notable Republicans who participated in authoring their proposal, they proceed to outline it.
Our plan is built on four pillars.
First, the federal government would impose a gradually increasing tax on carbon dioxide emissions. It might begin at $40 per ton and increase steadily. This tax would send a powerful signal to businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon footprints.
Second, the proceeds would be returned to the American people on an equal basis via quarterly dividend checks. With a carbon tax of $40 per ton, a family of four would receive about $2,000 in the first year. As the tax rate rose over time to further reduce emissions, so would the dividend payments.
Third, American companies exporting to countries without comparable carbon pricing would receive rebates on the carbon taxes they’ve paid on those products, while imports from such countries would face fees on the carbon content of their products. This would protect American competitiveness and punish free-riding by other nations, encouraging them to adopt their own carbon pricing.
Finally, regulations made unnecessary by the carbon tax would be eliminated, including an outright repeal of the Clean Power Plan.
The authors assert that a carbon dividends program starting at $40 per ton would achieve nearly twice the emissions reductions of all Obama-era climate regulations combined. They also report that, if all four elements are put in place at the same time, the plan would be sufficient, all by itself, to meet America’s commitment under the Paris climate agreement.
Environmentalists should like the long-overdue commitment to carbon pricing. Growth advocates should embrace the reduced regulation and increased policy certainty, which would encourage long-term investments, especially in clean technologies. Libertarians should applaud a plan premised on getting the incentives right and government out of the way. Populists should welcome the distributive impact.
The appeal of this plan is obvious: as the authors note, simply repealing Obama’s measures would be immensely unpopular; unlike Congressional “deniers,” most Americans accept the reality of climate change and support measures to address it.
Recent polls show that 64 percent of Americans are concerned about climate change, 71 percent want America to remain in the Paris agreement, and an even larger share favor clean energy. If the Republican Party fails to exercise leadership on our climate challenge, they risk a return to heavy-handed regulation when Democrats return to power.
If the goal is to reduce carbon emissions–and that is the goal among people who accept the reality of climate change–Republicans and Democrats who share that goal should embrace any proposal that will demonstrably achieve it.
If carrots will do what sticks cannot, I’m all for carrots.