A Republican icon puts his weight behind a tax on CO2 emissions

Source: Evan Lehmann, E&E reporter • Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2012

Former Secretary of State George Shultz is preparing to promote a carbon tax, putting him in the company of a small cluster of Republican statesmen who are embracing efforts to reduce greenhouse gases that their party has rejected.

Shultz, who spent nearly seven years in President Reagan’s Cabinet, says a carbon tax that returns its revenue to taxpayers and public programs could eventually be accepted by the Republican Party, despite its current hostile outlook on measures that reduce emissions.

Conservative principles related to national security and economic stability — and the impacts that foreign oil disruptions and price fluctuations can have on them — naturally appeal to Republicans, Shultz said in an interview published yesterday by Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy. Shultz is chairman of the institute’s advisory board.

Those interests would benefit from a carbon tax that decreases U.S. consumption of foreign oil, Shultz said.

“Another is that the globe is warming, which is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. The Arctic is melting,” he added. “If you could bring together the constituencies concerned with national security, the economy and the environment — both local and global — that would be a potent coalition.”

The move by Shultz adds him to a mini-surge of Republicans who have recently made similar proposals about a carbon tax, prompting one conservative to wonder whether there’s a “virus” infecting the elder statesmen of the Republican Party.

Earlier this week, former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), who says that his 2010 election defeat was related to his belief in global warming, launched the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. One of its key objectives is promoting a carbon tax (Greenwire, July 10).

Similar policies have also been promoted by Greg Mankiw, the former chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers and a current adviser to Mitt Romney, and Art Laffer, a former economic adviser to Reagan.

‘Vanity and egotism’?

But Shultz’s arrival attaches a bigger name to the carbon tax. His long tenure with Reagan, an icon among current-day Republicans, followed elevated stints in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations.

“The more credible conservatives that are talking about this positive conservative solution, the better chance that we’ll be able to start changing the conversation in the broader conservative movement,” said Alex Bozmoski, director of strategy and operations at Inglis’ Energy and Enterprise Initiative.

“A lot of conservatives remain skeptical about climate science, and it’s important to convey the conservative message that there are solutions to energy security which minimize risks to our environment and climate,” he added.

But others see the entrance by Shultz and others as a crafty, if misinformed, effort to reinflate their bygone political profiles.

“There seems to be an eruption of conservatives — very moderate-seeming conservatives, non-tea party, old country club-style conservatives — who are suddenly enamored of carbon tax,” said Kenneth Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

“I think this is mostly vanity and egotism on the part of these people who are coming forward, to try and reassert the Republican establishment over the tea party revolution,” he added. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have more of these guys weigh in.”

Carbon is ‘the problem,’ not taxes

Green says Shultz and others are basing their policies on outdated “narratives of carbon trajectories,” which he says changed with increased use of natural gas and other efforts to slow emission rates.

That response is perhaps unsurprising. Shultz’s actions put him at odds with his party’s positions on energy and taxes. Many Republican lawmakers criticize scientific assertions about climate change and strongly reject efforts to mandate emission reductions.

Romney has made increased domestic oil production, affordable energy prices and less environmental regulation key elements of his presidential campaign.

He opposes directives to cut carbon emissions, because he says the U.S. economy would suffer as other nations continue to release emissions unabated.

“So the notion that the U.S. can act unilaterally on carbon emissions and make a material difference on global greenhouse gases is not realistic,” Linda Gillespie Stuntz, a former Energy Department official and a Romney surrogate, said during a debate this week. “It will only hamstring our economy.”

For his part, Shultz said, “Getting control of carbon is right at the heart of the problem.

“We have to have a system where all forms of energy bear their full costs,” he said. “For some, their costs are the costs of producing the energy, but many other forms of energy produce side effects, like pollution, that are a cost of society. The producers don’t bear that cost; society does. There has to be a way to level the playing field and cause those forms of energy to bear their true costs.”

To do that, he added, “means putting a price on carbon.”