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Groups working with Republicans on climate are discouraged, but see a glimmer of hope

Posted on 21 November 2016 by dana1981

Because America is entirely governed by two political parties, passage of legislation usually requires bipartisan support in US Congress. However, the Republican Party is the only major political party in the world that denies the need to tackle climate change. Therefore, for several years any hope of passing climate legislation hinged upon breaking through the near-universal opposition among Republican legislators. A number of groups have focused on doing just that.

In the wake of the 2016 US election results, I contacted these groups to assess their feelings about the prospects of US government action on climate change in the near future. The general sentiment was understandably one of discouraged pessimism, but each group identified glimmers of hope.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s success and growth

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is one of the leading grassroots climate organizations in America, and has also expanded rapidly internationally. The group has seen explosive growth in recent years, now hosting chapters in 356 of America’s 435 congressional districts (over 80%), with a membership approaching 50,000 strong.

Under the CCL proposal, carbon pollution is taxed at the source, and 100% of the revenue is returned to taxpayers via a regular rebate check. It’s a bipartisan solution – liberals get their desired carbon pollution tax, while conservatives get a free market policy that doesn’t grow the size of government. Moreover, modeling projects that the policy will have a net overall positive effect on the economy.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby has also achieved several significant successes. The group was involved in spearheading the Gibson Resolution, in which 15 Republican members of Congress called for action to tackle the risks posed by climate change. CCL was also the driving force behind the creation of the House Climate Solutions Caucus – a group currently comprised of 10 Republican and 10 Democratic members of Congress exploring bipartisan climate policy solutions. And CCL initiated the California state government’s Resolution urging the federal government to pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

According to CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds, the 2016 election didn’t change group’s strategy. As Reynolds told me, because Democrats are already on board with climate policy:

Our path to legislation has always gone through the Republican Party.

As an organization with a long history of working with Republicans on climate policy, now that the Republican Party controls US government, CCL is now more relevant and important than ever. Reynolds told me that since the election results, traffic to CCL’s website has increased eightfold, and attendance of its weekly introductory calls has spiked from an average of about 20 to 200 last week. The majority of Americas who are unhappy with the election results have become galvanized, which bodes well for grassroots support of climate solutions.

Reynolds also sees an opportunity for Republicans to take control of the climate issue after many liberals rallied against a revenue-neutral carbon tax proposal in the state of Washington. This opens up a window for the Republican Party to take ownership of one of the best policies to tackle climate change. As Donald Trump might put it, a revenue-neutral carbon tax is “a great deal” because it efficiently addresses the problem while boosting the economy, and the rebate protects American wallets from rising energy prices.

Niskanen Center: GOP could replace regulations with carbon tax

The Republican Party has thus far opposed all climate policies in Congress, but the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate carbon pollution, and it began doing so under President Obama. Some have proposed that the easiest way for the GOP to eliminate those government climate regulations – which party leaders abhor, but most Republican voters support – would be to replace them with free market legislation.

For example the Niskanen Center is a free market think tank that supports this type of policy, and has proposed swapping EPA regulations for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The group’s president Jerry Taylor wrote a detailed post about the prospects of a carbon tax under the incoming Republican leadership, which is well worth reading. Taylor thinks that Republican leaders are now less likely to propose a climate tax than prior to the election for several reasons.

First, they will likely devote the next several years to delaying, weakening, and/or eliminating the EPA regulations, rather than replacing them. Because of the Supreme Court decision, eliminating the regulations will be difficult, but since Trump will appoint at least one justice to the court, it may not fully survive legal challenges. However, if it does survive, the next president could fully restore the EPA regulations if Congress declines to replace them with legislation. While this offers a glimmer of hope that the GOP could pass a climate bill, it’s doubtful that party leaders will be so forward-thinking.

Second, the election results made it clear that climate denial will not hurt most Republican politicians in elections. Third, while many Republican members of Congress privately accept the reality of climate change and the need to address it, and Niskanen has identified several who would be willing to introduce climate legislation if the opportunity were to present itself, Taylor believes the election results make such a political opportunity less likely.

R Street Institute sees other opportunities

The R Street Institute is a free market think tank that has likewise made the conservative case for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The group’s president Eli Lehrer believes the chances of carbon tax legislation would have been low regardless of the election outcome. As he told me:

A carbon tax would be a possibility in the context of broad tax reform and if such reform moves forward as it may, I suppose there is some chance it could be part of a package … A carbon tax per se is not highly likely and is not something we plan to push ourselves right now but it is not impossible either.

R Street Energy Policy Director Catrina Rorke elaborated where she sees opportunities in cutting carbon pollution under the incoming government:

We’re focused on streamlining regulatory barriers to entry to electricity markets, an obstacle that plagues emerging and advanced technologies with characteristics quite different from their predecessors. We also think we can make major strides in updating the way the federal regulatory machine works, given that the underlying legislation is outdated and insufficiently flexible ... If politics is the art of the possible, we’re really going to see some interesting things happen — for governance and for the climate.

Climate future looks dim, but there are glimmers of hope

These groups were generally pessimistic about the prospects of a climate bill coming from the next Congress, but they did spot glimmers of hope, and the future isn’t set in stone.

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Comments 1 to 10:

  1. A revenue neutral carbon tax seems to me like an excellent suggestion on so many levels. It seems to resolve a number of problems within this one idea. The tax would have strong economic foundations that would reduce emissions, but would also be clear and upfront, and also politically acceptable to a range of interests. The revenue could be cordoned off and returned as a general rebate or alternatively put into renewable energy, although I appreciate this is not strictly revenue neutral. However the money could be in its own account, and not siphoned off for all sorts of general spending, and this should be attractive to many people.

    The American constitution has explicit clauses that give the government the power to tax. Republicans appear to strongly support the constitution, so should find a carbon tax acceptable. I have seen the public in my country support taxes where there is a strongly compelling and clear case that is well explained.

    Cap and Trade is another market idea that makes sense in theory, but appears to run into some problems when applied in the real world. This is a shame as the scheme has some compelling features, but politics is about the art of the possible.

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  2. Unfortunately, there appears to be a hard core of Republicans/liberatarians that think that taxes should only support armed forces, justice system and police. Anything else is an imposition on liberty. Sigh.

    "The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all."  GK Chesterton

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  3. From In order to avoid exceeding a very disruptive warming of 1.5 oC with 66% probability, humanity can release approximately 220 gigatons of CO2 after January, 2017 (IPCC Climate Change 2014 Synthesis report, Table 2.2, corrected for emissions since 2011). Global CO2 emission rates are now about 36 gigatons of CO2 per year, giving a time horizon of only about six years of business-as-usual (!) before we cross the line. To reach the catastrophic 2 oC, about 1000 gigatons of CO2 remain (about 20 years of business as usual). Note that these estimates were done before global temperatures spiked since 2014 — we are currently at 1.2 oC! So these temperature boundaries may be closer than was recently thought.

    This makes me pretty depressed. I just do not see it happen in time, with or without Trump. 

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  4. The clock :

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  5. So the GOP thinks that climate change is so much greenwash.  Fine.  There are so many other compelling reasons to reduce the use of fossil fuel that will appeal to the thought processes of your typical Republican.  Retreat, regroup and come at them from a different angle.

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  6. Maybe there's a ray of hope?  Mother Jones put this together.


    2012: The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

    2014:Give me clean, beautiful and healthy air - not the same old climate change (global warming) bullshit! I am tired of hearing this nonsense.

    2015: Obama's talking about all of this with the global warming and ... a lot of it's a hoax. It's a hoax. I mean, it's a money-making industry, okay? It's a hoax, a lot of it.

    January 18, 2016: I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change.

    August 11: I would say it goes up, it goes down, and I think it’s very much like this over the years. We’ll see what happens. I mean, we’ll see what happens. ... Certainly, climate has changed.

    September 13: There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of “climate change.”

    September 26: I do not say that [climate change is a hoax].

    Today: "I think there is some connectivity" between humans and climate change, Trump says.

    My head is exploding!!!!!!!!!!!

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  7. So Trump says: "September 13: There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of “climate change.”

    Interesting that there are strong rumours on the internet that the Trump Administration wants to cut NASAs climate funding.

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  8. Factoring in increasingy apparent feedbacks (not all included in IPCC models), the carbon budget may have already been spent. Taxing carbon and giving rebates does not give people the choices they need, e.g., efficient and fast public transit and  long-distance rail. Cap and trade, as noted above, does not cap in the real world, which is immediately necessary.

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  9. This report from Reuters"My only worry is the money," said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu of Democratic Republic of Congo, who heads a group of the 48 least developed nations. "It’s worrying when you know that Trump is a climate change skeptic," ( At first glance this doesn't come across at all well.   Is the cooperation of developing nations entirely dependent upon cash from the developed nations?  Will climate change sceptics seize on this and use it to claim it is money not reduction of carbon dioxide emissions that is the force driving action against change?

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  10. Always an extremely complicated question. What doesnt go down in developing nations, is being told that you cant develop by using the same cheap fossil fuel resources as rich nations used to become what they are. Since rich nations are responsible for virtually all of the problems and the poor nations taking most of the consequences, then that is certainly a sticking point. There a need for rich to help poor develop sustainably - the trick is how to do that without just lining the pockets of corrupt officials.

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