GOP lawmaker proposes carbon tax

GOP lawmaker proposes carbon tax
© Greg Nash

A moderate Republican lawmaker on Monday proposed instituting a carbon tax, breaking with the party’s long-standing opposition to policies that would punish people and companies that emit gases that cause climate change.

Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz Disinvited GOP lawmaker turns up at Dem hearing MORE (R-Fla.), who is running in an extremely vulnerable Florida district that Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate Trump says he's not prepared to lose in 2020 MORE won handily in 2016, wants to repeal the federal taxes on gasoline, diesel and aviation fuels and replace them with a $24 per metric ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions that increases each year.

The tax would apply to coal mines, fuel refineries, certain manufacturing facilities, natural gas processors and fossil fuel importers. It would increase the costs of fossil fuels and products and services that use them, but the revenues would go to infrastructure, low-income households and climate mitigation projects, among other places.

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Curbelo, one of the most vocal current Republican lawmakers on climate change, pitched the proposal as an infrastructure investment program that would also fight global warming.

The legislation “recognizes the cost of carbon dioxide emissions, while at the same time repealing the regressive, discriminatory gas tax, which overburdens Americans who drive traditional vehicles and fails to fully fund our nation’s infrastructure needs,” Curbelo said at a Washington, D.C., event hosted by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

“The bill would set the United States on a path to reduce carbon emissions, and not only fulfill but exceed the commitments set out under the Paris agreement,” he said, citing Columbia research predicting that the bill would result in a 27 percent to 32 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2025 and an up to 40 percent cut by 2040.

“Second, the bill raises must-needed revenue to modernize our national infrastructure, a bipartisan priority that remains elusive without a new influx of revenue,” he continued.

The proposal would also put a moratorium on new Environmental Protection Agency climate regulations, subject to regular review. Imports from countries without carbon pricing would get a new tariff.

Per capita costs for energy would increase by up to $278 by 2030, Columbia’s analysis concluded.

Curbelo’s legislation is the first Republican proposal to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions in about a decade, following Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVeterans group to hand out USS John McCain T-shirts for July 4 on the National Mall Will we ever have another veteran as president? Meghan McCain clashes with Joy Behar as the 'sacrificial Republican' on 'The View' MORE’s (R-Ariz.) cap-and-trade bill, sponsored alongside then-Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

The bill came days after the House passed a nonbinding resolution from Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseLawmakers warn of 'grave situation' after drone shot down House Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account MORE (R-La.) condemning a carbon tax as “detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.” That resolution passed with all but seven Republicans in support and all but eight Democrats in opposition.

Some right-wing economists have long supported a carbon tax as a simple way to fight climate change with minimal government intervention. But the party overwhelmingly opposes policies to punish greenhouse gas emitters, which would likely hurt fossil fuel industries like coal, oil and natural gas.

Conservatives have already made it clear that Curbelo’s bill is a non-starter.

“This is a direct attack on American manufacturing and competitiveness,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said in a statement. “It also sets up an earmark for left wing activists who would be paid as ‘consultants’ with taxpayer money.”

Curbelo acknowledged the GOP opposition to increasing taxes, and he voted for Scalise’s resolution when a similar vote came up in 2016.

But he said it’s not useful to ask about a new tax without the full context, like that the proposal would be revenue-neutral.

“In a vacuum, any tax is detrimental to economic growth. If we just ask about any tax we could levy — or increasing any tax — without any other consideration, sure. That would lead to lower economic growth and would burden Americans,” he said.

“But now ... more and more Americans understand how carbon pricing could fit in the context of, in this case, infrastructure investment, tax reform, and of course take into account the economic benefits of fighting climate change.”

Curbelo said he doesn’t think the proposal would pass soon, but he predicted that other Republicans will join in to co-sponsor his bill. Some colleagues are interested, Curbelo said, but he declined to name them.

He also said he’s spoken to the White House about it, and Trump officials “were interested to the extent that it was a means to fund their infrastructure proposal.”

Curbelo’s bill is dubbed the Modernizing America with Rebuilding to Kick-start the Economy of the Twenty-first Century with a Historic Infrastructure-Centered Expansion Act, or the Market Choice Act. He plans to formally introduce it in the House on Monday.

While conservatives largely condemned the proposal, environmentalists cautiously welcomed it.

“It’s a breakthrough to see a serious Republican proposal take aim at the central environmental threat of our time. But this carbon tax plan is only a conversation starter. It falls far short of what’s needed to protect our climate,” David Doniger, senior strategic director for climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

“For the first time in a decade a Republican congressman has put forward a bill to seriously address climate change, bringing renewed hope for bipartisan engagement on this issue,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute.

“This bill reflects the growing understanding that we can address dangerous emissions and at the same time generate revenue that can be used to strengthen the nation. Addressing climate change is urgent for the prosperity and well-being of our communities, economy, and national security.”