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  1. Opinion

Column: The case for a carbon tax to fight climate change

Published Jun. 14

A "bomb cyclone" caused the worst flooding ever recorded in parts of Nebraska and Iowa. One of the strongest and most deadly tornadoes in U.S. history tore through Alabama and claimed 23 lives. A "polar vortex" made Chicago colder than Mars.

That's just in 2019 so far.

Horrible natural disasters have always occurred. Growing up in Florida, I've had a firsthand view of this and have seen neighborhoods prepare and rebuild many times. According to growing scientific consensus, climate change is already having extreme effects on our weather conditions today, offering a grim picture of a tomorrow filled with deadlier, more abundant natural disasters.

This is all the more reason it's imperative for lawmakers to act now and propose real solutions to solve climate change. While Democrats continue to promote an inefficient regulation regime, Republicans have largely chosen to ignore the issue. But the tides seem to be changing as more conservatives turn their attention towards climate.

Recently, a White House economic advisor said he believes that climate change could hinder economic growth, echoing findings from the government's National Climate Assessment released last year. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, tweeted, "Climate change is real. Humans contribute." And three Republican House members — Fred Upton of Michigan, Greg Walden of Oregon and John Shimkus of Illinois — wrote a column proclaiming "climate change is real."

Despite this progress, many Republican lawmakers still cede the climate change ground to the Democrats. Continuing to do so would be a mistake, as more American – and Republicans – prioritize climate change.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken late last year, a majority of Americans believe in climate change and that humans contribute to it. A Monmouth University poll taken around the same time supports these findings. But the Monmouth poll had another interesting nugget: 64 percent of Republicans now believe in climate change, an eight percent jump since 2015.

The 2018 midterms were bad for Republicans primarily because people felt that the party was out of step with the mainstream. If Republicans continue ignoring the climate change issue, they could further alienate climate voters, even those within our party, and pay the price at the ballot box.

At a time when Democrats are coalescing behind a massive government expansion under the Green New Deal, Republicans have the opportunity to lead on this issue with bold climate proposals that reduce carbon pollution while growing jobs and economic opportunity.

A revenue-neutral carbon tax is one such solution. A market-centered carbon tax would place a price on the amount of carbon emitted by producers, while cutting taxes and onerous regulations elsewhere to keep the tax burden neutral.

This proposal would have two effects. First, it would incentivize companies to cut emissions as a way to reduce their overall tax burden, thus creating a feedback loop where companies pollute less and pay less. Second, cutting regulations would help businesses reinvest in their companies, create innovative new technologies, and grow the economy.

The proposal already has bipartisan support and the backing of top economists, because it proves that environmental stewardship and economic growth aren't mutually exclusive.

As a lifelong Floridian, I've seen firsthand the devastating effects of natural disasters on communities. As climate change worsens, so too will natural disasters, leaving economic and social turmoil in its wake across every corner of the country.

A carbon tax is the best first step for America to begin seriously combating climate change. For Republicans, this policy is a win-win. Not only does it ease the burden on businesses while helping the environment, but it also gives the party a broader political appeal. Going into 2020, Republicans would do well to remember this.

Carlos Curbelo served as a Republican member of Congress from Miami from 2015 to 2019.

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