If EPA Chief Pruitt Is Listening To Private Enterprise, He’ll Think About Pricing Carbon

February 21, 2017
By Ken Silverstein

Now that Scott Pruitt has been confirmed as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, he must determine what his priorities are and whether his agency should actively pursue carbon dioxide emissions cuts. The concern is that he will abandon the cause under the guise that it is economically oppressive. Is that wise?

Pruitt’s general belief is that the science is unsettled. Is there room in his thinking for the possibility that it might, in fact, be “settled,” and that the country should pursue policies to mitigate the effects of global warming? To that end, the United States would have to increase use of cleaner burning fuels to, effectively, insure against the possibility that climate change is mostly human induced.

The industrial revolution catalyzed the country’s economy. But today’s titans are comprised of social media and Internet enterprises, which want us to imagine the unimaginable — especially that climate change could be a real threat. For their part, Donald Trump and Pruitt are stuck in a time warp. They want to kill carbon reduction efforts as a way to appease those who catapulted them to power. More light will be shed on this as Pruitt’s previously secret emails are opened to the public.

With that, Republican elders are stepping up and taking the lead. The latest such effort is coming from the Climate Leadership Council, which has released a plan to begin taxing carbon at $40 per ton. “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends” lays out a scenario where that price would rise each year and where carbon emissions would fall.

The group, which includes former Secretary of State James Baker, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, says that $194 billion in revenues would be generated in year one — a figure that it expects to increase to be $250 billion a decade later. That money would then be returned to the American people in the form of a “dividend,” although that plan would also winnow down certain carbon regulations. (Other versions would use the revenues to either reduce taxes or to invest them in new technologies.) 


The carbon plans put forth by Republicans, however, rely on either small government fixes or they re-distribute the revenues to energy consumers. Any deal could leverage their solutions.

The answer “ultimately means penalizing companies that emit too much pollution or putting a price on carbon,” says Christine Todd Whitman, former EPA administrator under President George W. Bush, in an interview with this writer. “The environmental cause is basically a Republican issue. We can do these things without cratering the economy.”

Her positions are supported by three other former Republican EPA chiefs: William Ruckelshaus, who served under Presidents Nixon and Reagan; Lee Thomas, who also served under President Reagan and, William Reilly, who served under the first President Bush.

But if the idea is to gain traction, big business will have to lead. Re-enter Big Oil, which has previously used its heft to convince the newly-seated EPA administrator to act on its behalf and which could use its same powers to get him to support a negotiated price on carbon. Pruitt will listen, as will his conservative counterparts.

Indeed, private enterprise moves not only the masses but also their elected representatives. Political warfare, though, may work to polarize the two sides, delaying a lasting solution until a more sympathetic White House is voted in.