IF AMERICAN conservatives were “conservative” in any reasonable sense of the word, they would worry about the risky experiment humans are conducting by filling the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases. They would also propose market-friendly solutions for dealing with it.
Yet, it has been a decade since a Republican proposed a bill that would put a price on the greenhouse-gas emissions that drive climate change, which is the most efficient way to combat global warming. In that time, climate change’s early consequences have harmed communities in the United States and abroad, warning of worse to come. And the Republican Party has met the warnings with ever-more-extreme science denial.
So it was nice to see Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) introduce a climate bill last week. It does not change the fact of near-universal GOP intransigence. Only two other Republicans have signed on to Mr. Curbelo’s legislation. The GOP House just passed a resolution declaring “the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy.” President Trump is even more hostile to acting on climate issues than most Republicans.
But Mr. Curbelo argues that his bill will help spur a too-long-dormant conversation among Republicans about how the government should tackle global warming, and that something like it will eventually pass. Which raises a question: If a new generation of Republicans more attuned to climate reality ever asserts itself, would a bill like his be a good place to start?
There is a lot to like. Mr. Curbelo would put a substantial price on carbon dioxide emissions, $24 per metric ton in 2020, and set it to rise faster than inflation. An analysis from Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy found that the plan would slash U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 27 to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and by 30 to 40 percent by 2030. These reductions would likely outpace President Barack Obama’s pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025, and the plan would provide a long-term road map for further reductions.
The plan would modestly raise energy costs, but these costs would nevertheless remain far lower than their 2008 peak. Mr. Curbelo would also make the tax more palatable by eliminating the federal gasoline tax and using some of the leftover revenue to aid low-income families, who would face a tougher time than richer people paying the new carbon tax. That would still leave substantial amounts of money to fund infrastructure projects.
Complaints? Well, a simpler, fairer approach might be to rebate as much money as possible directly back to Americans, reducing the carbon tax’s burden on as many as possible. But the Curbelo bill would be a great improvement over the status quo. A genuinely conservative party would embrace it.