The most important thing about a carbon tax plan proposed last week may be the people behind it: prominent Republicans like James Baker III, George Shultz and Henry Paulson Jr. Their endorsement of the idea, variations of which have been suggested before, may be a breakthrough for a party that has closed its eyes to the perils of man-made climate change and done everything in its power to thwart efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This gang of Republican elder statesmen — they call themselves the Climate Leadership Council — is not made up of the usual environmentalists, which is why their proposal might gain traction, though probably not right away.
The new Climate Leadership Council argues that conservatives should support a carbon tax because it is a more market-friendly approach than Mr. Obama’s regulations. And after a carbon tax is put in place, the council says, the government should eliminate most of those rules, since they won’t be needed. But there are legitimate fears that the tax alone might not achieve emission reductions on the scale needed to save the planet from out-of-control warming, and that regulations and other policies like public investments in renewable energy will be needed, too.
Neither President Trump nor Republicans in Congress have embraced the proposal. Many conservatives believe they’ll be able to dismantle Mr. Obama’s regulations through administrative, legal or legislative maneuvers, without compromising. Plus, many are philosophically opposed to, and politically fearful of, any new taxes.
Their dismissal of the council’s proposal is myopic and puts their party out of step with the country. A large majority of Americans want the government to address climate change — 78 percent of registered voters support taxing emissions, regulating them or doing both, according to a Yale survey conducted after the election. The Republican elders are offering their party an opening to change the conversation. It should take the cue.