Seeking to shore up support, GOP carbon tax group claims $1 trillion in economic benefits

By Josh Siegel

A Republican-backed group pushing for Congress to pass a carbon tax is out with a new study Friday showing it would significantly reduce emissions while unlocking more than $1 trillion of new investment into the economy.

The group, the Climate Leadership Council, is seeking to shore up support for carbon taxes as policymakers have gravitated toward other proposals.

Democrats, including presidential nominee Joe Biden, are instead embracing mandates for combating climate change, while Republicans oppose new taxes or regulations. The council, led by former Republican Secretaries of State James Baker III and George Shultz, is seeking to counter that.

“The report confirms and supports a belief we have held for a long time and what the economic community long has been saying,” said Greg Bertelsen, executive vice president of the council. “A price on carbon like ours is the single best way to spur mass amounts of innovation across the economy as we transition to a lower-carbon future.”

The council commissioned the research firm Thunder Said Energy to model its proposal for a carbon tax beginning at $40 per ton, increasing 5% every year. The proposal, dubbed a “carbon dividend,” would return the revenue to taxpayers through equal quarterly payments to offset higher energy prices.

The study found the plan would reduce emissions 57% by 2035 compared to 2005 levels while leading to $1.4 trillion of new capital investment in clean energy technologies by that year when the carbon price would have reached $112 per ton. It projects the new spending would create up to 1.6 million new jobs by 2035, including indirect ones, for things such as building electric vehicles, solar panels, carbon capture technologies, and offshore wind farms.

Businesses and economists contend a carbon tax is the simplest and most efficient way to address greenhouse gas emissions, by applying a per-ton fee for large emitters such as power plants and refineries.

Supporters view the approach as a market-based solution, one that would encourage energy producers to switch to cleaner non-fossil fuel alternatives if doing so cost less than paying the tax.

A wide array of businesses have endorsed the Climate Leadership Council’s carbon tax and dividend, including oil and gas giants BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Exxon Mobil, automakers General Motors and Ford, and banks JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.

The Climate Leadership Council’s pitch includes a provision attractive to businesses, namely scrapping or preventing carbon regulations of power plants and all other stationary sources imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, in exchange for imposing a carbon tax.

But the business and oil industry support has not been enough to entice Republicans, who view a tax as politically risky, even if the revenues go to taxpayers instead of funding other government programs.

Democrats also view carbon taxes as politically unfavorable.

“The politics of carbon pricing always made sense as sort of a compromise, moderate pathway to decarbonization, and that still might be the case,” said Noah Kaufman, a climate and energy economist at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy who supports a carbon tax. “But now, there are folks on the Left saying, ‘We’ve never much trusted the market anyway, why are we bothering to compromise when there is no one on the other side to deal with right now?”’

Biden has instead pledged to implement a clean electricity standard, setting a goal of eliminating carbon emissions from power plants by 2035.

A clean electricity standard requires utilities to use increasing amounts of power from zero-carbon sources. More than 30 states, some of them Republican-led, have adopted some type of clean electricity standards.

Kaufman also said Biden’s mandate for utilities to use only zero-carbon power by 2035 would lead to a quicker phaseout of natural gas, the country’s most used power source that has helped reduce coal use in recent years.

The Climate Leadership Council’s study projects its carbon tax would increase natural gas use in the short term, rising 15% by 2023 from 2019, as it replaces coal at an accelerated pace.

That could incentivize new construction of gas plants in the longer term, the study says.

“There is going to be folks on the Left who will raise eyebrows when they see that,” Kaufman said. “A big shift to natural gas creates concerns about lock-in if we are talking about new infrastructure over the next decades.”

Wind and solar use, to be sure, would grow under the Climate Leadership Council proposal, from 10% of electricity in 2019 to 29% in 2035.

Bertelsen also notes a carbon tax applies across the entire economy, while a clean electricity standard is limited to the power sector, which is considered the easiest to decarbonize (albeit the most important).

“In terms of this being enough, no other policy being seriously discussed would do more to accomplish the underlying goals of climate change while also strengthening the economy, increasing investments in new technologies, and enhancing U.S. companies’ global competitiveness,” Bertelsen said.

This article appeared on the Washington Examiner website at https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/energy/seeking-to-shore-up-support-gop-carbon-tax-group-claims-1-trillion-in-economic-benefits