Address climate change and send Americans a check at the same time. That’s the nut of an intriguing idea put together by a group of Republican elders. The plan would curb emission of greenhouse gases by taxing them at the refinery, at the mine or wherever they enter the economy. The proceeds would be sent to Americans in the form of dividends. A family of four could expect to receive about $2,000 in the first year.
Those leaning left also see beauty in a carbon tax, though some environmentalists want the revenues to go toward developing renewable energy sources. I’d prefer that, too, but the prospect of dividends makes for a much easier sales pitch. And frankly, the private sector is doing a very good job of clean-energy innovation.
A carbon tax would put strong financial incentives in place to discourage use of fuels that emit greenhouse gases. It also would provide a measure of predictability that companies need for making long-term capital investments.
When companies have to pay for pollution, there’s less need for micromanaging laws requiring such items as smokestack scrubbers. In sum, until you get to zero emissions, you are paying.
Less government involvement also means less politics. Recall how Republicans flogged the Obama administration over losses at Solyndra, a solar-energy company that stimulus money helped finance.
Private capital knows that often only 1 in 10 investments pay off. Political demagogues don’t know or don’t care to know. The program used by Solyndra happened to have many successes, but who can name a single one?
Expectations that the current administration will take up even a conservative approach to global warming are dismally low. The single candle lighting the darkness is the new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who supported a carbon tax as CEO of Exxon Mobil.
Trump has been king of surprises. Isn’t it time for a good one?