Meet the ‘eco right’ pushing for a carbon fee

Source: Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 2, 2017

Over the summer, Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Brian Schatz of Hawaii introduced legislation to instate a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and said they were looking for a Republican co-sponsor.

A glimmer of hope for them emerged when Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina publicly endorsed the plan in September.

But after a spate of hurricanes, a dozen wildfires and mass flooding, many weeks later there has been virtually no public progress on carbon legislation.

“Let’s see, let’s see, let’s see,” Whitehouse told E&E News yesterday. “Well, what I can say is what Lindsey Graham has said publicly, which is that he is working with me and looking at that bill. He has announced nothing further, and I have nothing to announce.”

Jerry Taylor, a prominent libertarian in favor of a carbon fee, said the lack of movement on the Hill could mean a carbon tax window is opening.

“The main evidence for that read of the law of the land is the opponents of carbon taxation are mobilized and engaged, and they wouldn’t be if this were not a live issue,” he said. “When you see opponents to a proposed idea mobilized and actively engaged in the fight, it tells you the fight is farther along than you think.”

For the last couple of months, grass-roots conservative groups opposed to a carbon fee — the Club for Growth and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, for example — have been on high alert, Taylor said.

Whitehouse said that indeed contrary to popular opinion, there are a growing number of Republicans, conservatives and libertarians who openly support pricing carbon. They’re just not on the Hill, yet.

“There is considerable Republican support for a revenue-neutral border adjustable carbon fee outside of the political crucible of Congress, and indeed, it’s really the only solution that has generated any significant Republican support,” said Whitehouse.

Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina who famously reversed his climate skeptic stance, agreed there is growing movement on the right to address global warming.

“This space has been dominated by folks on the environmental left,” he said. “They think they have an open door to Republicans, but they really don’t. So we’re developing what we call the ‘eco right.’ It’s a balance to the environmental left.”

Think tanks

Niskanen Center

The Niskanen Center was founded in 2014 by Taylor and is predominantly focused on Capitol Hill outreach.

Prior to founding the center, Taylor spent 23 years to advance the Cato Institute’s libertarian agenda. His job was to change hearts and minds on issues like free markets, limited government and climate change.

He worked to demonstrate that the economic toll of reducing carbon emissions would not outweigh the potential benefits. But as he spent more time with climate science and economics, his views began to shift (Greenwire, June 16).

Taylor, a vocal proponent of a carbon tax, said he is seeing movement on that front.

“We’re meeting not only with the usual suspects, like members of [Florida Republican Rep.] Carlos Curbelo’s Climate Solutions Caucus, but also with Republican members outside that coalition, and what we’re finding is there is a great deal of sympathy towards action on climate change and a lot of interest in carbon taxation,” he said. “But there is uncertainty about the political road from here to there.”

Taylor said Republican members are not worried about the merits of the carbon fee structure but rather what is often called “safe passage” politically.

Taylor’s preferred legislation would levy carbon taxes at the point of production, use proceeds to offset revenue losses from tax cuts, rebate a portion of the revenue to poor households, eliminate U.S. EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate green energy subsidies, among other measures.

Taylor said he believes his ideas have merit not only because they allow the market to work but also because climate change is real and imposes risk.

“And it’s not conservative to act as if risk does not exist and play dice with the planet,” he said.

R Street Institute

In 2012, the Heartland Institute, one of the leading groups questioning global warming science, launched a digital billboard campaign featuring Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber.”

The ad read, “I still believe in global warming, do you?”

Following the campaign, some Heartland members working on insurance issues decided it was time to break off and start their own outfit that took climate change seriously.

“We still have a friendly relationship with [Heartland],” said Josiah Neeley, senior fellow, energy policy director and Southwest region chief for the R Street Institute. But as insurance brokers, R Street employees understood risk, he said.

“If you’re dealing in insurance, you need to be able to take climate change seriously. Because it’s not realistic if you’re talking about sea-level rise, storms, droughts, floods, you name it,” Neeley said.

R Street, founded in June 2012, is a think tank that promotes free markets and limited government. The group supports a carbon tax. Neeley said R Street applies conservative values and principles to address the warming planet.

“The most common or strongest objection that we get from folks when we talk about this stuff is the idea that it’s not politically realistic in one way or another,” he said.

“Being skeptical about government implementation I think is a fair point,” Neeley said, “but there are a lot of things that we advocate for that would be pretty major changes to policy, and knowing politicians are flawed vessels I don’t think that means that we should just give up.”

Thought leaders

Climate Leadership Council

The Climate Leadership Council, founded earlier this year by Washington, D.C., think tank veteran Ted Halstead, is known around town for its high-profile members, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, scientist Stephen Hawking, famed economist Larry Summers and others.

The council also includes corporate entities like Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and nongovernmental organizations like the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International.

In February, the council formally launched with the publication of its manifesto: “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends,” authored by eight GOP statesmen.

They included Republican heavyweights James Baker III, who served under both Presidents George H.W. Bush and Reagan, and George Shultz, who served under both Reagan and President Nixon.

The proposal, which they presented to the White House, includes four main policy goals: a gradually increasing carbon tax, border carbon adjustments, carbon dividends for all taxpayers and significant regulatory rollbacks (Greenwire, Feb. 8).

Jill Sigal, the executive vice president who served in President George W. Bush’s administration as assistant secretary of Energy for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, said the plan is free market, pro-growth, pro-environment and pro-jobs.

“We think that our proposal is a conservative solution to reducing emissions, while not negatively impacting the U.S. economy,” she said. “We believe that the U.S. needs to take action on a federal level to reduce climate emissions.”

At the Yale Climate Conference this year, Baker said that the proposal should appeal to people regardless of their stance on warming. He called the measure an insurance policy, saying the risk is too great to not do something.

Sigal said she senses climate engagement on a variety of Republican fronts, from the business community to the House Climate Solutions Caucus.

She said council members have frequented the Hill in recent months to take meetings with both House and Senate members about their proposal.

“We’ve had some interesting and great meetings these last few months,” she said. “We’re getting very good reception on the Hill.”

Alliance for Market Solutions

The Alliance for Market Solutions is led by Alex Flint, a former member of President Trump’s transition team who previously worked as senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, and by fellow NEI alumnus Chris Carter.

The board of advisers for AMS brings together Republicans with experience in private equity, investment banking and energy consulting.

They include Vicky Bailey, who served as an assistant secretary at the Department of Energy under the second Bush administration and as a Republican member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; John Rowe, chairman emeritus of Exelon Corp.; and former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.).

“We think there are a significant number of Republican members of Congress who agree that Republicans need to engage on climate change, and we’ve been quite pleased with their willingness to talk with us about what a Republican position should be,” Flint said.

He stressed his group is “just” Republican. He’s not interested in being bipartisan.

The alliance aims to “educate conservative policymakers on the benefits of market-oriented solutions to one of America’s most pressing economic challenges: advancing clean energy and reducing carbon pollution,” a mission statement said.

Unlike the Climate Leadership Council, AMS is not pushing a dividend model. “Using the proceeds of a carbon tax to pay a rebate or dividend would produce no additional economic growth or jobs,” AMS states on its website.

The group advocates using the revenue to cut corporate or individual income taxes, estimating each American family would benefit by nearly $3,000 annually.

Targeting the public

RepublicEn

RepublicEn Executive Director Inglis launched the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University in July 2012. The group works to educate conservatives, libertarians and pragmatists about climate change and a carbon fee.

“We’re engaging with conservatives in the heartland and presenting broad solutions to climate change. The most immediate solution is a revenue-neutral border adjustable carbon tax,” Inglis said.

“Mostly what needs to happen is conservative members of Congress need to hear from their constituents a readiness to engage in the competition of ideas of how to solve climate change,” he said. “We’re out gathering that constituency so elected officials will feel comfortable leading.”

For six years, Inglis said he thought climate change was nonsense. “I didn’t know anything about it, but I knew Al Gore was for it,” he said.

When he ran for Congress again in 2004, his son approached him. “He said, ‘Dad, I’ll vote for you, but you’re going to clean up your act on the environment,'” Inglis recounted.

Inglis said it was a three-step process, the final of which was an encounter with a scientist named Scott Heron on a trip to look at the Great Barrier Reef.

“We shared a worldview because he was worshiping God in what he was showing me. Told me about conservation changes he’s making in his life,” Inglis said.

When he returned to Congress, he introduced a revenue-neutral border adjustment tax as an alternative to cap and trade, both of which went nowhere.

“When I got tossed out of Congress, I started working on this effort,” Inglis said in reference to RepublicEn. He said his group, made up of over 3,800 members, is finding success with young conservatives and conservatives of faith.

“It’s harder with their parents, and it’s really pretty hard with their grandparents,” he said. “The challenge is the grandparents vote more often. The thing I’m supremely confident of is we are going to win, but will we win soon enough to head off the worst consequences of climate change?”

Citizens’ Climate Lobby conservative caucus

While the Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a nonpartisan group, its member are mostly left-leaning volunteers. Still, the group contains a conservative caucus, which is growing.

CCL targets Republican members of Congress and urges them to join the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus (E&E Daily, Sept. 6).

Since the caucus’s inception in 2016, CCL and others have had unprecedented success pushing GOP politicians to join. The grass-roots advocacy organization is angling for the caucus to take up a carbon fee and dividend approach to curb emissions.

While members of the House “Noah’s Ark” group, which adds Republicans and Democrats in pairs, have co-sponsored a number of climate-related bills, like renewable energy tax credits, they have yet to broach a carbon tax. Still, activists are encouraged by the growing membership, which reached 60 this year.

Also notable is Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, which is a grass-roots campaign engaging with Republican policymakers for cleaner power.