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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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GOP should warm to carbon dividend

Some elder statesmen in the Republican Party have proposed a carbon tax to address global warming, but is it an answer the current ruling class could embrace?

Key Trump administration appointees have been dismissive of the theory that man is the chief culprit for warming. The heads of the relevant committees in Congress have been downright hostile, with one, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, calling it a hoax, and the other, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, turning up the temperature on researchers who continually publish uncomfortable truths. They represent the oil-producing states of Oklahoma and Texas respectively.

James Baker, former secretary of state and White House chief of staff, is also from Texas and he’s not as convinced as the scientists, but he is calling for a national “carbon dividend” as an insurance policy. Others who have signed on to the Climate Leadership Council strategy are former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and conservative economists Martin Feldstein and Greg Mankiw.

They don’t deploy the global-warming rhetoric that conservatives often dismiss as “alarmist,” and they certainly don’t aim to strengthen or expand central government.

They would impose a $40 per ton carbon tax (to be adjusted as needed) and refund the proceeds to the American people in the form of dividends. The higher the tax, the higher the check. Spending the dividend would boost the economy. Those who lessen their carbon footprint would lessen their tax bite. As behaviors change and alternative energy sources gain market share, carbon emissions would drop.

Shultz has pointed to the success of the Montreal Protocol, under which a skeptical Reagan administration solved the issue of the hole in the ozone. “Given the risks, (Reagan) advocated for an insurance policy. As it turned out, the scientists who were worried were right and Reagan’s Montreal Protocol came along just in time,” he noted recently.

Similarly, today’s Republican leaders could get behind a carbon tax as insurance, without changing their minds on the science. The carbon tax and dividend would be a “just in case” action that would not imperil the economy. As an added sweetener, the plan would roll back other CO2 regulations, such as those imposed by the Obama administration after Congress declined to act.

Washington state voters just turned down a carbon tax, but the weakness of that initiative was that it only applied to one state. In fact, it was a response to the lack of action on the national level. A revenue-neutral carbon tax that doesn’t expand government and applies to all states equally should have more appeal to market-oriented conservatives. The details would be up for debate, but a plan like this would allow Republicans to seize the initiative on an issue where they’ve previously been obstructionists.

It’s certainly worthy of thoughtful consideration, just in case the researchers are right.