California has urged President Obama and Congress to tax carbon pollution
WHEREAS, A national carbon tax would make the United States a leader in mitigating climate change and the advancing clean energy technologies of the 21st Century, and would incentivize other countries to enact similar carbon taxes, thereby reducing global carbon dioxide emissions without the need for complex international agreements; now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Assembly and the Senate of the State of California, jointly, That the Legislature hereby urges the United States Congress to enact, without delay, a tax on carbon-based fossil fuels; and be it further Resolved … That all tax revenue should be returned to middle- and low-income Americans to protect them from the impact of rising prices due to the tax.
Copies of the Resolution were sent to President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker Ryan, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and to all members of Congress representing California. The document specifically calls for the type of revenue-neutral carbon tax advocated by the grassroots organization Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Studies have shown that a rising carbon tax with all revenue returned to taxpayers would have a modestly beneficial impact on the economy, while cutting carbon pollution at faster rates than current policies.
California exerts its climate leadership
California has become the US leader in tackling global warming. 10 years ago, the state passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring that its greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 be no higher than 1990 levels. California achieved that goal in 2010, 10 years early, and is among the lowest per-capita carbon polluting states.
On the same day last week, the state legislature also passed a bill expanding the Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring a 40% cut in California’s carbon pollution from 1990 levels by 2030. In other words, California isn’t just calling on the federal government to take action on climate change; the state is leading the way.
It remains to be seen whether any climate legislation can survive in the current toxic partisan political climate of Washington DC. However, a revenue-neutral carbon tax has the best chance due to its bipartisan appeal. Its requirement that carbon polluters pay for the costs of their pollution appeals to the political left, while its free market, small government approach appeals to the political right.
Revenue-neutral carbon tax is hard to dislike
By returning 100% of the taxed revenue to American households, the policy blunts the rising costs of energy produced by burning fossil fuels. In fact, studies project that a majority of Americans would receive a rebate larger than their increase in energy bills; only those who use the most fossil fuel energy would see costs rise more than the rebate.
It’s a policy that’s hard to dislike. It makes polluters pay, goes a long way toward tackling the immense threat of human-caused global warming, results in cleaner air and water by reducing the burning of dirty fossil fuels, and has a modestly beneficial overall economic impact. However, many in the fossil fuel industry oppose the policy for obvious reasons, and through campaign donations they have a solid grip on the Republican Party. In fact, pressure from fossil fuel lobbyists convinced House Republicans to pass their own Resolution condemning a carbon tax less than three months ago.
Thus it’s difficult to see California’s urging having much impact on Congress. Perhaps if the 2016 elections are a disaster for the Republican Party, they’ll change direction away from extreme partisanship and climate denial. Citizens’ Climate Lobby is optimistic that with enough grassroots lobbying, they can convince Congress to pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax in 2017.
It may take more states following California’s lead in calling on Congress to address the climate threat. California is certainly influential - it has the world’s 6th-largest economy, on par with that of France. The state put a price on carbon pollution via a cap and trade system in 2012, and since then its economy has continued to grow while emissions have fallen.
An opportunity the GOP must take
It would certainly behoove Republican Party leaders to reverse their climate denial platform. This is an issue on which - as with civil rights and gay marriage - they’re on the wrong side of history, and the electorate is quickly moving in the opposite direction. Climate denial is predominant among old, white men, and even young conservatives want the government to take climate action to preserve their future.
In 2012, the GOP published an ‘autopsy report’ that concluded young voters are “rolling their eyes at what the party represents.” Focus groups called them “scary,” “narrow minded,” and an “out of touch” party of “stuffy old men.” The report perfectly encapsulates the party’s stone-age stance on climate change.
Of course, the report also concluded that “many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country,” and the party proceeded to nominate Donald “ban all Muslims” and “build a wall” Trump for president.
In other words, the Republican Party correctly identified its problems in 2012, and has since proceeded to make those problems even worse. But it’s only a matter of time until they’re forced to shift away from the current extreme, including on climate denial, or risk permanently alienating a majority of American voters.
California’s Resolution is urging them to move in that direction. Don’t be surprised if more states follow suit and turn up the heat on GOP climate denial.