Addressing climate change has been a contentious political issue for the last eight years. It need not be. Democrats have long been frustrated with the lack of Republican support for action to prevent climate change. Republicans have long been frustrated with Democratic solutions involving regulations and taxes that drag down the economy.
Now, the Climate Leadership Council, a group of prominent Republicans who served as secretary of State and of Treasury for Presidents Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II, have proposed a solution to climate change that most Americans can embrace.
The Carbon Dividends Plan consists of four pillars: 1. A steadily increasing price on fossil carbon sends a clear market signal and accounts for costs of carbon that consumers are not paying, such as health impacts of particulate pollution and impacts of climate change. 2. All proceeds from the carbon tax are returned to the economy each quarter as equal dividends paid to all Americans. 3. Border adjustments based on the carbon content of imports and exports would protect international trade and prod other countries to put a price on carbon. 4. EPA regulation of carbon dioxide would be phased out.
This is a solution to climate change that is efficient and effective, creates jobs, compensates the poor, and eliminates regulations. The carbon price is substantial, starting at $40 per ton of carbon (about 40 cents per gallon of gasoline) and increasing 2 percent per year above inflation. It would drive carbon emissions down as utilities, businesses and consumers see predictable increasing costs of fossil carbon. By applying the tax at the refinery, imports and power plant, implementation would be simpler and effects much more pervasive than our present climate policy. The available energy substitutes (wind, solar, nuclear) would become even more competitive with fossil carbon.
The revenue-neutrality of the carbon tax would minimize the impact on the size of government, with dividends distributed by the Social Security Administration. The dividends, initially about $2,000 per year for a family of four, will more than compensate the poor for the added cost of fossil fuel, and enable consumers to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles to reduce their transportation costs. Analysis of a similar plan indicates that returning the revenue to the economy could spur growth and produce more jobs in a wide variety of sectors.
The border adjustment keeps our farmers and manufacturers competitive in the world market.
Phasing out the Clean Power Plan eliminates a complex and less-efficient and less-comprehensive approach to reducing emissions. More importantly, if the Carbon Dividends Plan is passed by Congress with bipartisan support and signed by the president, it will be a far more durable solution to climate change than action by executive order or legislative solutions passed when one party controls the federal government.
Why should Democrats support it? First, addressing climate change has long been a priority, and this plan presents an opportunity for effective durable action that creates jobs and compensates the poor, also long-time Democrat priorities. President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers supports it, as does as the Nature Conservancy.
Why should Republicans support it? First, according to a recent survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 66 percent of registered voters supported a carbon tax on fossil fuel if the revenue is used to reduce personal taxes. Second, it’s consistent with conservative values of small government, fewer regulations, market-based solutions, and personal responsibility.
But can it pass? That depends on you. Call Congressman Dan Newhouse on Monday (202-225-5816) and ask him to join the Climate Solutions Caucus, which is comprised of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats (12 each) in the House of Representatives. Congressman Dave Reichert joined it last week. Congressman Newhouse should too, to protect water supply and forests in his district.
Steve Ghan is a highly cited climate scientist who also leads the Tri-Cities chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.