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A constructive GOP platform on climate change


Donald Trump says he’s not certain about the validity of climate change. While he mulls that question, scores of Republicans are running for the House and Senate and need sensible guidance from their party.

Addressing the realities of climate change can be a plus for those candidates if they pursue a thoughtful, conservative platform. By grounding the platform in good science and economics, the GOP will appeal to environmentally minded swing voter groups including independents, young people, those who are college educated, Hispanics, and suburban women. Those same voters will be turned off if GOP candidates align with climate skeptics who deny basic findings of the National Academies of Science.

{mosads}From my experience working on environmental issues in the George W. Bush administration and now at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, here’s what I recommend as a conservative Republican platform on climate change:

  • Adopt a tax on greenhouse gas emissions throughout the economy that would rise over time so businesses and consumers have time to convert to sustainable activities. The tax could replace numerous, intrusive regulations on personal and corporate behavior. It would be a “revenue neutral” tax on emissions but the revenue wouldn’t stay in the government or pay to enlarge it. Instead, the money would go back to U.S. citizens either as a tax break or, preferably, in a quarterly dividend check.
  • Establish a tax at the border on products imported to the U.S. from countries with weak environmental standards. Trump advocates a 35% tariff on items from Mexico. His number may be too high but the thinking behind it is worth considering. There shouldn’t be a price advantage for imports from big-time polluters. Nor should companies that disobey environmental laws gain an unfair advantage. Willful and deceitful behavior, such as Volkswagen’s fake pollution controls, should be met with especially severe penalties.
  • Reconsider intrusive regulations such as the Clean Power Rule, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program, the renewable energy mandates, and the California electric-car mandate. These are well-intentioned efforts to reduce climate change but they’re adding layers of costly regulation to business operations. Sometimes the regulations are outmoded and not even linked to environmental results. Those rules should be scrapped. Sometimes businesses have better solutions to environmental problems than a regulation permits. Toyota’s Prius remains a more cost-effective investment than a plug-in electric car.  Those kinds of solutions should be approved by regulators, thereby giving increased flexibility for cost-effective innovations that protect for the environment.
  • Repeal subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuel development and renewable energy. Politicians love to hand out corporate welfare but, as the Solyndra debacle illustrated, the risk of corruption is high.  The GOP can say they’re getting the federal government out of the energy business. The amount of money involved isn’t huge but the symbolism is significant.

In sum, this platform should reassure swing voters that a conservative Republican environmental policy is appealing. All GOP candidates down the ballot can offer a coherent policy to address climate change, sustainability and over-regulation – all at the same time.

Graham served as the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under President George W. Bush. He is currently the Dean of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

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