Voters are Ready to Depoliticize the Climate Debate

American voters are eager to “depoliticize” climate change and clean energy, says Kristen Soltis Anderson, one of three leading Republican pollsters who conducted a survey released September 28.

“At the moment some of the louder voices in the party are dominating this debate,” she told The New York Times. “But as we move out of the entertainment phase of the (presidential) campaign and look at more of the policy platforms, there’s a way for Republicans to talk about this that depoliticizes climate.”

The pollsters found that 56 percent of Republicans do believe the climate is changing. Fewer than a third of Republicans think the climate is changing because of purely natural cycles, and only nine percent think the climate is not changing at all.

Many Democrats have sought to paint Republicans who question climate change as deniers of science who are out of touch with the mainstream, The Times’ Coral Davenport wrote. To avoid that characterization, said the pollsters, Republicans need to move beyond questioning and start offering solutions. According to the survey, 54 percent of conservative Republicans would support a carbon tax if the money were rebated.

The survey was underwritten by Jay Faison, a North Carolina Republican and entrepreneur who considers climate change a serious threat and is investing millions of dollars to address it.

“The right has not captured what their voice is going to be on these issues yet,” Anderson said. “There’s a huge opportunity for presidential candidates to turn the partisan temperature down.”

We believe that the approach we are suggesting would turn down the temperature on Capitol Hill—and eventually help keep the planet’s temperature down, too.

The package we have in mind would pair carbon pricing with a reduction in the corporate tax rate—a long-time priority for most in the GOP.  Such a reduction is unlikely unless there’s a revenue stream to make up for the diminished corporate tax flow to the Treasury. If a carbon fee of $30 per metric ton were established, and if it ramped up to $45 or $50 over ten years, the proceeds probably would range from $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion during those ten years.

Most of the balance of that money could be returned to low- and low-middle-income families through some combination of tax rate reductions, Social Security/Medicare tax credits, an increased Earned Income Tax Credit, or some other means. We call this bipartisan approach “carbon-funded tax cuts.”

To encourage our trading partners to price carbon and to make sure that U.S. companies would not be at a disadvantage, our system would impose a border tax adjustment on imports and include a credit for energy-intensive exports. Once adopted globally, carbon pricing would further strengthen American manufacturing, which is experiencing a renaissance due to our access to low-cost, low-carbon energy.

A carbon fee works. British Columbia has had one since 2008. It has reduced fossil fuel consumption by 16 percent, while use in the rest of that country has risen by 3 percent. Meantime, British Columbia’s GDP growth has outperformed Canada’s.

Wouldn’t the powerful oil and gas industry fight this idea tooth and nail? Unlikely. In June the CEOs of the six largest European oil companies wrote to the UN requesting a dialogue and negotiation about setting a single European or global price on carbon.

We need to do something—and fast. On September 28, with two months to go before the climate change summit begins in Paris, scientists reported that their review of the pledges announced thus far indicates that the world will fall far short of the greenhouse gas emissions targets we need to hit in order to avert dire consequences.

Partisan gridlock in Congress has prevented enactment of a strong U.S. response to this challenge. Meantime, President Obama’s ambitious Clean Power Plan, unveiled August 3, has initiated an intense fight that will play out in legislatures and courtrooms for a number of years, thus delaying action. The American people, as indicated in the new surveys by the three GOP pollsters, are fed up with their government’s inability to tackle the problem. We are paying our elected leaders good money to deliver common-sense solutions.

We have held more than 175 meetings on Capitol Hill, focusing on House and Senate members who serve on the five committees that have jurisdiction over tax, environmental, and energy matters. We found receptiveness to this approach, provided there is sufficient support from businesses back home. The most logical time for action would be in 2017, once the debate has had time to progress and a new president and Congress have taken their oaths.

This market-based response to climate change would foster economic growth, create jobs, end the long-standing deadlock over tax reform, and replace an expensive and unpredictable regulatory mechanism with a cheaper, faster, more predictable, and more effective solution. In the survey, 69 percent of Republicans said they would be likely to vote for a candidate who said that “climate change is a challenge and we need an approach that is market-based instead of one driven by more top-down government regulation.” 

The global effort to counter climate change is unlikely to succeed without U.S. leadership, and by pricing carbon we would be providing a major impetus to an approach that could be implemented around the world.