Which 2020 candidates support carbon pricing?
By Bob Taylor
In past years, presidential campaigns have rarely mentioned global warming, let alone offered major policy proposals. 2020 will be different for many reasons.
Dire reports from the world’s scientific community make it clear that we must act now. Extreme weather has increased markedly in recent years, from wildfires to hurricanes, and has alarmed the public.
Meanwhile, CCL’s years of advocacy for a carbon fee and dividend approach has begun to penetrate public understanding and has also provided politicians with a bipartisan climate change policy option to consider. And over the past few months, young activists and new legislators have pushed the topic of climate change to more prominence in the national discussion, through protests at the Capitol and through the Green New Deal resolution (GND).
The field of potential 2020 candidates is extensive. On the Republican side, only former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld has formally announced a bid for the nomination, but former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and current Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan are considering entering the race. All three accept climate science and believe more needs to be done to address climate change.
Among the 18 or more Democrats who have entered the race so far, all acknowledge climate science and place addressing climate change high on their agendas. All of them either embrace the goals of the Green New Deal or acknowledge the need for an ambitious “moon shot” approach.
Encouragingly, candidates from both parties have recently made comments calling for a price on carbon pollution, and some specifically favor the carbon fee and dividend approach. (Other candidates certainly have positions on climate change, but we’ve focused here on the most relevant recent comments or positions on carbon pricing.)
Former Rep. John Delaney (MD), who co-sponsored the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2018 when he was in Congress, mentions the bill and the fee and dividend climate solutions in interviews regularly on the campaign trail. He said in The Hill, “I prefer a more specific, actionable plan to do something big in climate, like the bipartisan carbon tax dividend bill. We need to unite behind a solution that will work and a solution that can win the support of a broad coalition. That’s what we are going to need to take a big step forward.”
Sen. Cory Booker (NJ) responding to a New York Times survey says, “A federal price on carbon should be one part of a comprehensive response to the threat of climate change. The proceeds should be paid out as a dividend in a progressive way that ensures that our climate policies are also reducing inequality and not burdening everyday families.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) recently told the hosts of Pod Save America, “If you want to attack global climate change effectively, I think you should put a price on carbon. You should put a price on carbon because what you’re doing is incentivizing good behavior.” She also clarified the distinction between a carbon tax and other approaches like a gas tax, which prompted the Yellow Vest protests in France. “That’s a different approach. Putting a price on carbon is much more about incentivizing good behavior and disincentives bad behavior,” she explained.
She added, “It doesn’t have to be regressive.” Sen. Gillibrand is right. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, for example, has been called “highly progressive policy,” in terms of its economic impact on low- and middle-income Americans.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN), in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times this spring, said, “If we were to use a carbon tax… it would have to be done in some way that is not regressive because the middle class and lower income people have already been having a harder and harder time affording things, and you don’t want to make it worse.”
CCL agrees, and that’s one reason we’ve always supported allocating carbon fee revenues to American people in the form of a monthly dividend. Studies show that, under this structure, the majority of low- and middle-income Americans come out ahead financially.
Julián Castro told the New York Times, “The U.S. needs a federally mandated price on carbon to spur private sector investments in renewables and carbon-free energy sources.” He would like to see the revenue invested “in renewable energy and related technologies, including battery technology, which would lower the carbon profile of our economy.” He added, “The revenue should also be directed towards addressing burdens many communities will bear.”
Beto O’Rourke rolled out his climate plan this week, in which he included a legally binding net-zero emissions standard for 2050. His proposal said, “This standard will send a clear price signal to the market while putting in place a mechanism that will ensure the environmental integrity of this endeavor.” Vox reporter Umair Irfan wrote, “This doesn’t rule out pricing carbon,” and economist Noah Kaufman took to Twitter to point out that the “backbone” of O’Rourke’s climate plan “looks like a carbon price.”
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, IN, called for a price on carbon with the money collected returned to families. In a March 10, 2019, CNN Town Hall he said, “We’re going to have to contemplate a carbon tax. And, by the way, there are ways to do it [so that] most Americans would be better off fiscally because we could return it right back to the American people.” It’s important to “capture the true cost of things that are happening right now,” he emphasized, “because it’s in your and in my lifetime that that cost is going to be paid one way or the other.”
Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur, also supports a carbon fee and dividend system. He proposes setting an initial carbon tax of $40/ton with regular interval increases. He proposes using half the revenue to fund a Universal Basic Income program and half toward projects that increase the efficiency of fossil fuels or increase the availability of renewables. He would also create a border carbon adjustment mechanism. He says, “We need to have companies internalize the cost of carbon emissions to provide incentives for them to innovate and invest in cleaner technologies and processes. […] We also need to transfer the benefits to citizens directly and use the money to improve the efficiency and availability of renewable energy.”
John Kasich, though not yet an announced candidate, is urging his fellow Republicans to stop denying human impacts on climate change and to start putting forth policies to address it. In a recent USA Today op-ed, he encouraged the parties to come together on this issue, saying, “I am convinced that conservatives and moderates, including many Democrats, can agree on a commonsense set of policies, based on responsible economic principles of free market capitalism and personal choice, not coercion.”
In a recent appearance on CNN, Kasich mentioned former Secretary of State George Shultz and said, “George Shultz, an icon of the Republican party, was for a carbon tax.” Shultz still is for a price on carbon, as a CCL advisory board member and a member of the Climate Leadership Council.
Gov. Larry Hogan (MD) though not yet an announced candidate, is a Republican who favors carbon pricing and is focused on reducing GHG emissions. He has joined with eight neighboring states in a regional cap-and-trade carbon trading scheme to reduce emissions, targeting GHG emission reductions in Maryland of 40% by 2030.
Bob Taylor is a volunteer with the Orange County Coast Chapter, Newport Beach, CA.