The Climate Leadership Council’s Bipartisan Solution
If you only casually follow the climate debate, you could be left with the impression that there are two camps sitting at opposite poles. You’ll read that on the right are “climate deniers” refusing to accept the conclusions of scientists and, on the left, “socialists” aiming to reorder our economic system. Through this lens, we have little hope of ever building enough consensus to solve the climate problem.
Fortunately, the vast majority of American voters represent a third camp—the camp that actually wants to get something done. Some 80% of voters now say it is important for a national climate policy to be bipartisan, according to a recent poll from Luntz Global.
This yearning for bipartisanship--which holds across all categories of voters--shouldn’t come as a surprise. With the rollback of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and other climate regulations by the Trump Administration, the American public has witnessed how fragile climate policy can be when it’s only supported by one party. The clear lesson: any durable solution must have buy-in across the political spectrum.
On a more fundamental level, though, voters may intuitively believe that on climate, both parties have good (and bad) ideas. Go too far in one direction, and the environment suffers; too far in the other, and the economy falters. Voters want their leaders to work together to find middle ground.
With strong majorities of Americans now accepting that climate change is real and fueled by human activity, a window for a bipartisan compromise is opening. A younger generation seems to be converging on the issue: Some 58% of Republicans under 40 have grown more concerned about climate risks over the past year—the same proportion as voters overall.
As public opinion has shifted, an odd-bedfellow coalition of large companies and leading environmental organizations has been working together these past two years to outline a national climate policy. Convened by the Climate Leadership Council, these stakeholders represent a wide range of industries and perspectives. They don’t agree on everything. But they share the belief that any solution should be grounded in common sense—and emerge from common ground. In other words, it must be bipartisan.
The Climate Leadership Council’s plan is based on the concept of carbon dividends: charging companies for their carbon emissions and returning all the revenue to the American people. A gradually rising and economy-wide fee would start at $40 a ton of carbon emissions. All proceeds would be distributed to households in equal-sized quarterly checks, with a family of four receiving about $2,000 a year. The plan also calls for removing carbon regulations that are no longer necessary upon enactment of a steadily rising carbon fee.
Why would this plan attract broad bipartisan support? For starters, it would work. A carbon fee starting at $40 per ton and increasing each year at 5% above inflation would cut U.S. emissions in half by 2035, according to modeling by Resources for the Future. To guarantee the plan’s environmental ambition, a safeguard mechanism would increase the fee rate faster if emissions targets aren’t met.
Second, this solution makes the majority of Americans financially better off from solving climate change. Under the plan, 70% of households would receive more in dividends than they pay in higher energy costs. In contrast to government policies that pick winners and losers and ask Americans to foot the bill, the carbon dividends approach empowers people to decide for themselves how to shrink their carbon footprint.
Third, the Climate Leadership Council’s solution stimulates innovation and economic growth. It would trade an effective carbon fee for regulatory simplification. Replacing on-and-off-again carbon regulations with a steadily rising carbon fee would give business owners the predictability they need to invest for a clean energy future. With greater policy certainty, businesses will be able to drive down their emissions faster.
Lastly, our plan would level the playing field for American companies and even advantage those with cleaner manufacturing methods than their overseas competitors. A system of border carbon adjustments would apply the fee on the carbon content of imported goods and rebate the fee for exports. This would put the United States in the driver’s seat in international negotiations and encourage leading emitter nations, like China and India, to follow suit with carbon fees of their own.
Don’t believe the hype. There is middle ground on climate policy, and it’s where the vast majority of voters sit. The carbon dividends solution proves it’s possible to create a climate solution where all sides win. Let’s make it the basis for a much-needed bipartisan climate breakthrough.
Greg Bertelsen is Executive Vice President of the Climate Leadership Council.