Here’s a conservative Green New Deal idea: Place a tax on pollution

Demonstrators inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington, D.C., want Democrats to support the Green New Deal.
Demonstrators inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington, D.C., want Democrats to support the Green New Deal. Getty Images

As Republicans, we know climate change is an issue that can no longer be ignored.

The daily reality of climate change, sea level rise and other impacts is clear for all to see in Florida. The question of whether to act has been answered: We must.

If as conservatives we don’t want the heavy hand of government calling the shots, then a “Just say No” approach to climate action will no longer work. We can no longer simply criticize the other side and offer nothing in response.

Now we face three interrelated questions: When? Who? How?

The speed with which liberals have begun to coalesce around the concept of a “green new deal” expresses their legitimate hunger for strong climate leadership. Polling shows that even 64 percent of Republicans support the concept.

How fast this happened has even surprised liberal leaders, who have been scrambling to fill in what the slogan means.

This could be a recipe for a hasty collection of bad ideas. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez D-New York, has captured a great deal of attention with her use of the phrase.

She has introduced the Green New Deal Resolution, H. Res. 109. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, has offered the companion piece in the Senate.

It is clear that conservatives won’t like Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, which includes things that have nothing to do with overcoming climate change, like big government healthcare, housing for all and “economic security” for everyone.

Before enthusiasm carries our country too far down the wrong road and a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude takes over, conservatives must present a better solution.

We have an approach to overcome climate change that has been championed by conservative policy leaders and economists. Its time has come. The “when” is now, and here’s the “how” — a tax on pollution.

Instead of having liberal politicians and government bureaucrats mandate how to cut carbon pollution, a carbon tax lets the market figure out the most efficient way to do so throughout the economy, driving innovation by harnessing the creativity of workers, engineers, business leaders and entrepreneurs.

Far from scrambling to throw something together, our approach is ready for prime time.

Five conservative organizations — Climate Leadership Council, Alliance for Market Solutions, Niskanen Center, republicEn and Evangelical Environmental Network — have provided ideas and support for a carbon tax that can help overcome climate change.

One of us — Carlos Curbelo — last year introduced in the U.S. House an infrastructure investment bill funded by revenues from taxing pollution.

This leads to the question of who will finally bring about a serious response at the federal level to climate change.

We are convinced that both the magnitude and longevity of the problem demands we come together as patriotic Americans, united in our desire to make America better, and create a strongly bipartisan approach.

We have seen that action by the executive branch, such as the Obama Clean Power Plan, can be overturned by the next administration. So, too, can a bill pass with a narrow, partisan majority.

We must have a politically sustainable policy that can withstand misguided attempts to undo it. Progressive green new dealers and conservative carbon pricing champions must eventually come together: we are the “who.”

Thankfully, it is not just conservatives who have advocated for a carbon tax. Progressives have as well. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, the most ardent champion for climate action in the Senate, also introduced carbon tax legislation last year.

We agree completely with his colleague, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who cosponsored the bill: “Climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We need bipartisan leadership, and market-based solutions have support across the ideological spectrum.”

There is much that already unites us. Progressive advocates of a green new deal want climate change to be overcome and a cleaner environment. They want a strong economy and lots of good jobs.

They want infrastructure improvements to pave the way into a brighter future, one driven by technological innovation. We want all of these things as well — and a price on carbon can help deliver them.

When? Now. Who? A strong bipartisan majority. How? Putting consumers in control by recognizing the cost of pollution to the economy and the environment.

Carlos Curbelo was a member of the House of Representatives from 2015-2019, serving Florida’s 26th District. The Rev. Mitch Hescox is president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network.