1. Opinion

Editorial: Republicans' carbon tax proposal

Establishment Republicans who recently unveiled a carbon tax plan have narrowed a sharp divide and given conservatives a fresh seat in the global warming debate.
Published Feb. 23, 2017

Whether a tax on carbon would be the most effective or even the most politically viable approach to addressing climate change remains to be seen. But establishment Republicans who recently unveiled the plan have at least narrowed a sharp divide and given conservatives a new seat in the global warming debate. This is one area where Republicans in the White House and Congress could work with Democrats on an issue vital to public health, national security and the economy.

The proposal, released by the Climate Leadership Council, is simple to understand, easy to administer and popular in its appeal. The federal government would impose a tax on carbon emissions. The initial levy, set at $40 per ton, would raise up to $300 billion a year and increase over time. The proceeds would be distributed through a "carbon dividend" to Americans, paying out an estimated $2,000 per year for the average family. To keep U.S.-made products competitive, the government would impose a border charge on imports from nations that don't have a similar plan in place.

As a practical measure, this proposal could garner broader support for climate action than anything currently on the table, both for its market approach and for the skin in the game that producers and consumers alike would have in reducing carbon emissions. A tax would give industries and consumers an incentive to reduce their carbon output and seek cleaner energy options. Erecting trade barriers to put producers worldwide on a level playing field is in keeping with President Donald Trump's trade policy. The plan is simpler for businesses to understand and the government to enforce than earlier policy alternatives, such as the system of capping and trading carbon credits. And by giving industry and the public a stake in the outcomes, the plan would bring a wider audience into the climate discussion and increase public appreciation of warming-related impacts.

The proposal, authored by Republican elder statesmen such as James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz, former secretaries of state, and other former advisers to Republican administrations, also gives the party a chance to claim a stake on what's been largely a progressive issue and a chance to shape climate policy on conservative terms. The plan calls for relaxing regulations, including the outright repeal of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, and other measures to protect the fossil fuel industry. Cutting red tape, the role of government and the regulatory burden would all, as conservative theory goes, work to give business the certainty it needs to invest.

The question is whether this proposal would be more effective in reducing emissions than the Clean Power Plan, which is on hold pending legal challenges. Democrats may also be loath to repeal a plan that at least provides a guide path and that has helped garner global commitments from other major world polluters to cut their own emissions. Sponsors also need to explain why any tax dividend should be handed out across the board rather than be reinvested in clean energy technology and production. And would a more market-based approach prompt other countries to relax their own official efforts and targets to reduce emissions?

Still, this proposal advances the debate beyond questioning the science of climate change or even the extent that man-made emissions are to blame, and its focus on results rather than the process to achieve them should open up political ground for both sides. Credit the establishment for giving Republicans a remake in keeping with their principles.


  1. Editorial cartoon for Saturday/Sunday Andy Marlette/Creators Syndicate
  2. Stock photo. MORGAN DAVID DE LOSSY  |  Getty Images/iStockphoto
    I’m a new mom -- again -- and please remember that many mothers would welcome government policies that make it easier for them to stay home with their kids than returning to work. | Column
  3. Josh Hensley, 43, was found in the waters of Kings Bay in Crystal River. He was known for dressing as Jack Sparrow. Facebook
    Here’s what readers had to say in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  4. David Colburn was the former provost and senior vice president of the University of Florida. JAMIE FRANCIS  |  Tampa Bay Times
    He believed that diversity is our strength, and that the way to overcome division is to shine light in dark corners, writes Cynthia Barnett.
  5. Adam Goodman, national Republican media consultant
    With Washington once again failing to embrace reforms following mass shootings, it’s up to Americans to create a movement to demand change. | Adam Goodman
  6. Couple, Lewis Bryan, 36, (back left) and Amber Eckloff, 33, pose for a portrait with their children, (From left) D'Angelo Eckloff, 14, Rasmus Bryan, 4, Ramiro Bryan, 10, Lothario Bryan, 6, and Alonzo Bailey, 17. The family has been living at the Bayway Inn on 34th St S. Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 in St. Petersburg.  MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    When about 40 percent of city households are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, something has to change.
  7. A judge ruled in June that it is up to Hillsborough County Commissioners to decide how much money the bus agency and other transportation projects get from the one-cent transportation sales tax voters approved in November. The board did just that this week.[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
    Hillsborough commissioners follow through on transportation funding.
  8. From left to right: Florida Department of Transportation workers inspect damage to the Interstate 175 overpass at Sixth Street S caused by a roll-off dumpster truck that left its hydraulic arm upright, according to St. Petersburg police [JAMES BORCHUCK | Tampa Bay Times]; Former Pinellas school guardian Erick Russell, 37, is accused of pawning the Glock 17 9mm semiautomatic pistol, body armor and two magazines he was issued to protect students [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]; Johnna Lynn Flores [AUSTIN ANTHONY | Tampa Bay Times] Tampa Bay Times
    Here are three examples of routine information Tampa Bay governments kept from the public this week.
  9. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos; Florida state Sen. Tom Lee presides over the Senate's committee on infrastructure and security in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. The committee is considering new legislation to help address mass violence. (AP Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan) Times files/Associated Press
    Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and state Sen. Tom Lee speak up. When will others?
  10. Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses supporters at a rally, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle) CRAIG RUTTLE  |  AP
    Experts don’t agree with us? Research, evidence and math prove inconvenient? Just trust us, the far left says. Our plans do everything we say they will. | Catherine Rampell