Republican Opportunity?

Posted: July 12, 2015

The Republicans have an opportunity now to put forward legislation for a price on carbon and lead the way into the 2016 elections. Outrageous? Maybe not.

The tide is beginning to turn– just beginning. Three key factors: (1) more and more Republicans and some conservatives are espousing a price on carbon as a market solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, (2) Democrats are beginning to offer revenue options that are more palatable to business-oriented legislators, and (3) with thousands of studies and peer-reviewed papers, the data are now very compelling that climate change is indeed a serious threat and caused by human activities.

An intriguing possibility is that the Republicans could seize this opportunity to bring forward their own proposal for a price on carbon with a revenue neutral, business favorable option, and take credit for breaking the impasse – a nice feather in their cap for the 2016 elections.

Some polls suggest that the voting public are moving toward wanting more action on climate.  A poll by the NY Times, Stanford University and Resources for the Future shows that 48 percent of Republicans say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports fighting climate change.  On the flip side, 67 percent of respondents, including 48 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents, said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who said that human-caused climate change is a hoax.  But other polls tell different stories, as polls do. Nevertheless the trend seems to be strengthening toward wanting action on climate change.

It may be a surprise to some that proposals for a price on carbon have been brought before Congress fairly regularly since 1990.  Thirty-six proposals were brought prior to 2015, twenty-one in the 111th Congress alone (2009-2010) when the Waxman-Markey bill (H.R.2454) passed the House but died in Senate committees.  To date, five proposals have been brought before this Congress (2015) – three proposals for a carbon tax or fee, and two for a version of cap and trade.  Sponsors of all five have brought proposals once or more in prior years.

The difference in 2015 is that two of the proposals before Congress, Delaney-H.R.2202 and Whitehouse-S.1548, are proposing reducing the corporate income tax rate — among other possibilities — in their slate of revenue options.  Senator Whitehouse openly stresses that the revenue options in his bill are meant to draw bi-partisan support.

Also, in the last Congress the Republicans were vocally opposed.  But (so far) in this Congress they are not.  Perhaps Republicans are not lining up in opposition because now is an opportunity for them to make their own proposals for a price on carbon.  It will be interesting to watch developments.

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