As climate change policy takes shape, will the U.S. ever put a price on carbon?

November 15, 2021
By Alicia Doniger

The world needs to reduce carbon levels, and one way is through a carbon tax, a strategy the U.S. has been debating for decades.

In a plan put together by the Climate Leadership Council, a climate advocacy group co-founded by former Secretary of State James Baker, who served in the Bush and Reagan administrations, the idea isn’t to fund government efforts to fight climate. The Climate Leadership Council’s plan outlines that revenue collected from a carbon fee is “to be returned to American households,” said Carlton Carroll, Climate Leadership Council spokesperson.  

“Nothing would do more to accelerate innovation and invest all citizens in a clean energy future than an economy-wide carbon fee, with corresponding dividends for the American people,” Carroll said. 

The group’s carbon dividends plan cites four major benefits to consumers, including an increase in household disposable income nationwide. 

Increasing carbon pricing could be done by taxing greenhouse-gas intensive goods and services, like gasoline, or by taxing carbon emitters individually. The Climate Leadership Council is among groups advocating for pricing carbon-intensive goods as part of a U.S. climate plan, “because it will go further, faster than any other single climate policy intervention,” says Carroll, “while also driving innovation throughout the economy and making families better off financially.” 

Historically, there has been some bipartisan support for a carbon tax. The first carbon pricing proposal was introduced in 1990, and there have been several other propositions since. Though none have passed, Newell said the most recent carbon pricing proposal in Biden’s social safety and climate plan piqued the interest of Congress far more than anticipated. 

The carbon tax proposed as part of the Build Back Better plan would impose a $20 fee per metric ton of carbon.