NALLS: Carbon dividends are a viable option

The new climate change solution championed by young Republicans has potential within the party

800px-Dave_Johnson_coal-fired_power_plant,_central_Wyoming

What makes carbon dividends a viable option within the party are the conservative pillars of the proposal.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

While significant challenges bar the use of sustainable energy systems, there are several new opportunities that provide avenues to overcome such challenges. Recently, one such opportunity has spread rapidly amongst young Republicans. The policy proposal known as “carbon dividends” finally establishes a feasible conservative response to climate change. The plan harbors a foundation rooted in conservative economic principles, while simultaneously creating a path for bipartisan action to address climate change. As a climate change solution from a Republican perspective, carbon dividends have a bright future amongst the party.

The idea of carbon dividends was originally pioneered by the Climate Leadership Council under the direction of business leaders, former Republican cabinet members and even the late Stephen Hawking. The policy proposal stands in stark contrast to the typical lack of Republican response to climate change. Unsurprisingly, the policy response has garnered the faithful support of numerous young Republicans driven by disappointment in current inaction. 

Many young conservatives have taken the initiative to spread support for this policy around the country. College Republican groups from over 20 institutions — including the University — have formed the Students for Carbon Dividends coalition. The drive has inspired action by university Democratic and environmental groups, who have joined the coalition in support as well.

What makes carbon dividends a viable option within the party are the conservative pillars of the proposal. Carbon dividends are defined by four key components: a gradually increasing carbon tax, carbon dividends for all Americans, border carbon adjustments and a significant regulatory rollback. According to the CLC, instituting the policy will strengthen the American economy, shrink the size of government, and help working-class Americans. These promises are the driving reasons behind conservative support. 

First, a carbon tax is implemented on carbon dioxide emissions from “the first point where fossil fuels enter the economy, meaning the mine, well or port.” Based upon input from economists, a suggested tax stands at $40 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. This carbon tax gradually increases over time — deterring producers from further investing in high carbon emission systems, driving them towards embracing “cleaner” energy systems.

Second, the proceeds of the tax are divided and distributed equally to all Americans on a monthly basis. This component of the plan makes the proposal a carbon dividend instead of a carbon tax — a huge boon for taxpayers. Interestingly, a positive cycle is created through the rising carbon tax. Americans would receive larger payments the more the climate is protected from emissions. With more money going directly into American pockets on a monthly basis, individuals will be able to use this money for a variety of purposes including investing and saving for the future.

Third, carbon fees on exports and imports would be established to encourage other nations to adopt their own initiatives to curb carbon emissions. As the CLC states, “Exports to countries without comparable carbon pricing systems would receive rebates for carbon taxes paid, while imports from such countries would face fees on the carbon content of their products.” The proceeds of these trade fees are then distributed to Americans. Unfortunately, this is where the plan breaks with conservative economic principles — essentially a ‘necessary evil’ to the CLC.

The final component of the policy proposal promotes significant regulatory rollback. Specifically, the plan supports an outright repeal of the Clean Power Plan. In theory, the carbon tax rate will exceed the emission reductions of current regulations. Therefore, Environmental Protection Agency regulations would become effectively redundant upon the implementation of carbon dividends. For conservatives historically opposed to federal regulations, a repeal of the Clean Power Plan is ideal.

As one of few climate solutions proposed by Republicans, carbon dividends proves promising because it distributes money among Americans and repeals the Clean Power Plan. In light of growing popularity of carbon taxes, a tax from which the proceeds go directly to the American people is much more agreeable among Republicans than one which solely benefits the government. A repeal of Obama-era regulations simply serves as the icing on the cake. 

While solutions to climate change boast a growing amount of support from the right, a sizeable majority of the Republican party must first be convinced before any action is taken. This issue was best highlighted during the Virginia Republican senatorial debate held at Garrett Hall in March. During that debate, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors Corey Stewart stated plainly, “I believe that the theory of man-made climate change is a hoax,” in response to a question specifically about carbon dividends.

Fortunately, a growing number of Republican representatives are they key to generating support amongst the party. The Climate Solutions Caucus, composed of 37 Republican and 37 Democratic House representatives, have increasingly opened the door to discussion about climate change solutions. For a plan looking to expand in influence, reaching these members is essential. Furthermore, with 57 percent of Republicans supporting policies to mitigate climate change, carbon dividends have the potential to ride the wave current shifting opinion. Thus, with the support of some Republican leadership and young Republicans across the country, carbon dividends have a bright future within the Republican party. 

Matthew Nalls is a Senior Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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