WNPR

Are Carbon Taxes Finally Catching On In Congress?

Jul 30, 2018

A Republican member of Congress is introducing a bill he says will patch up crumbling infrastructure, while also fighting climate change. It’s called a carbon tax. The idea centers around putting a price on pollution and funnelling money collected back into roads and bridges across America.

The concept is relatively straightforward, make polluters pay to emit harmful carbon dioxide -- and over time, the thinking goes, that price makes them do it less.

But selling the idea politically has been tough. Now, Congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, is taking a new approach: proposing a bill to eliminate the gas tax, and instead, tax polluters like utilities and motorists. Under his plan, most of that money would be invested into highways and bridges.

“I don’t think he would call his bill a climate change bill. I think he would call it an infrastructure bill,” said Connecticut Democratic Representative John Larson.

Larson has pushed the carbon tax idea in Washington D.C. for over a decade. Traditionally, he said, the legislation has been a Democratic-backed concept. But Larson said Curbelo’s bill gives him hope the concept is getting some bipartisan traction.

Curbelo seems hopeful that’s the case.

“I truly believe that one day, this bill, or legislation similar to it, will become law,” Curbelo said during a recent presentation with the Columbia University Center for Global Energy Policy.

“In the short term, it will spark an important debate about investing in our country’s infrastructure, the way we tax, and what to do to protect the environment from the perils of human-induced changes in the climate,” Curbelo said.

“What I think we’re seeing here is a bill from a Representative whose own district economy is being really specifically affected by climate change. And he’s trying to do something about it,” said Kate Gordon, a non-resident fellow at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

Gordon’s team reviewed Curbelo’s proposal and found it would drive down carbon emissions while increasing government revenues and benefitting low-income households.

Like Rep. Larson, Gordon said Curbelo’s bill signals a bigger shift in Congressional thinking on climate issues.

“In the past I think there’s been this sort of, we should do this because it’s the right thing to do, but it might affect the economy negatively. Now, I think we’re seeing this is actually the only way that we’re going to stop some of these negative economic effects,” she said.

Last week, a group of energy companies, including BP America and National Grid, stopped short of endorsing Curbelo’s proposal, but wrote a letter thanking the representative for the idea. The companies said they’re hopeful Curbelo’s carbon tax bill demonstrates “how valuing or pricing carbon and strengthening the economy are not mutually exclusive.”

Still, both Larson and Gordon said any tax is a tough sell in a Republican-controlled Congress.

Days before Curbelo’s bill debuted, more than 200 House Republicans passed a symbolic resolution denouncing carbon taxes.

But six, including Curbelo, voted in support of the tax idea, signalling a slight crack in what only two years ago was a unified wall of GOP resistance.