Call it a tax without tears. It is a proposal to address carbon pollution by replacing a raft of tax subsidies and regulatory requirements with a carbon tax.
What is surprising is who is pushing it: dyed-in-the-wool, rock-ribbed Republicans.
They are the top of the GOP: Every one of them has had an outstanding career in finance, industry or academia. They are men and women who contribute to Republican candidates regularly — and some of them quite generously.
These Republican grandees and party financiers have formed the Alliance for Market Solutions (AMS), which aims to educate conservative policymakers on the benefits of market-oriented solutions to climate change.
“A carbon tax, if the myriad of subsidies and regulations that policymakers now use to affect markets are stripped away, would lead to economic growth and achieve significant carbon pollution reductions,” says Alex Flint, executive director of AMS.
Well-known in Republican circles, he previously served as staff director of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and as senior vice president of government affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute.
The organization’s 10-member advisory board includes John Rowe, former chairman and CEO of Exelon Corp., the largest diversified utility in the United States, and Marvin Odum, former chairman and president of Shell Oil Co. and board member of the American Petroleum Institute.
What we need now, Rowe said, is “a new approach to energy tax and regulation that advances our strategic policy objectives and recognizes that the period of scarcity that began in the 1970s is over. We no longer need to subsidize energy production.”
Instead, we need policies that address “the next great energy challenge: carbon pollution,” he said.
Rowe and AMS allies believe that pairing a “revenue-neutral” carbon tax with a regulatory rollback would be good climate policy.
Flint explained: “A carbon tax would ideally be imposed upstream where carbon enters the economy. Costs would then be passed down the consumption chain through prices, which would impact decision-making and drive the use of cleaner fuels and new technologies across the economy.”
Studies by AMS estimate that a carbon tax would generate more than $1 trillion in additional revenue over the next decade, which lawmakers could use to reduce other, more distortionary taxes, or do things like make the 2017 tax reform permanent or even further reduce income taxes.
Rather than mounting a loud public-pressure campaign, Flint told me the members of the alliance — which also includes William Strong, chairman and managing director of Longford Capital Management, and Chris DeMuth, distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute — began by meeting quietly with influential Republicans in small groups, going over the gains that would come from tax reform and emphasizing that the carbon tax does not have to be a one-size-fits-all solution, although it is a simple solution to a pressing problem.
Emphasis has been on Republicans who wield power behind the scenes and the tax writers in the House and the Senate. The reformers are getting a hearing, I am told.
The alliance has tried hard to get the facts and detailed analyses nailed down ahead of public discussion. They have done this in a new book, “Carbon Tax Policy: A Conservative Dialogue on Pro-Growth Opportunities,” edited by Alex Brill of the American Enterprise Institute.
The book is, you might say, the creed of the AMS. It is an eye-opening read by conservatives who want to limit government market-meddling and bring about sound policy through enlightened taxation.
On Twitter: @llewellynking2
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS.