After Nearly a Decade, A Step Toward Bipartisan Engagement in Congress on Climate Change

Today Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo introduced the Market Choice Act (co-sponsored by Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), which would charge for carbon emissions from fuel combustion and large industrial sources. WRI welcomes the return, after nearly a decade, of positive bipartisan engagement in Congress on the critical issue of climate change, and this bill could be a first step toward a comprehensive, durable solution.

Climate change impacts cross political boundaries, whether through sea level rise and flooding in Curbelo’s South Florida district, or in the form of increased wildfires, heat, drought and other extreme events throughout the United States. As carbon concentrations increase, impacts that are now extraordinary are expected to become the new normal.

Bipartisan legislation is the best way to address this complex problem. While Republican leadership on climate change at the national level has been absent in recent years, Republicans have a long history of environmental action. Just 10 years ago, when Barack Obama and John McCain vied for the presidency, climate change was a strong plank in both major party platforms. But now, far too few Republican members of Congress have been willing to engage in the development of a bipartisan, solution-oriented approach.

This bill represents an important step, and shows a recognition by Curbelo that smart climate solutions can provide both environmental and economic benefits and that the resolution calling a carbon tax detrimental to American families and business that was introduced by Republican Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana is both wrong and short-sighted. In fact, analysis of Curbelo’s proposal shows it would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 27 to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, with minimal effect on gross domestic product and with benefits for the lowest-income households. In addition, the Scalise resolution, which passed the House on July 19, failed to acknowledge the existence of climate change and the detrimental impact carbon emissions have on American families, businesses and the economy. WRI’s New Climate Economy has provided robust evidence that a well-designed climate policy can and must go hand in hand with economic growth. As Curbelo rightly notes, the Scalise resolution presents “a false choice” between addressing climate change or the economy. Research and experience shows we can do both.

Starting a Bipartisan Climate Discussion

The Market Choice Act has the potential to start a bipartisan discussion on how to tackle climate change. This bill provides a thoughtful approach to charging for carbon pollution. While WRI has not conducted a complete analysis of this bill, we see that it asks many of the right questions and provides good-faith solutions to some of the difficult issues that will need to be resolved when a carbon price is established. This bill is not the final answer, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Addressing the climate challenge is unquestionably a big thing, and Curbelo has offered a critical step by reopening bipartisan dialogue on finding a solution to the climate problem.

WRI’s focus on climate policy centers on emissions reductions guided by science to avoid the worst climate impacts in a way that is broadly beneficial to the environment, the economy and society and that works on ensuring a resilient future. How carbon tax revenue is used will have a big impact on these outcomes. For example, the investments in infrastructure contemplated in this bill should be designed to be resilient to future climate change impacts. With these points in mind, several elements of the bill are worth noting for their approach to key issues:

  • The bill addresses the possibility that actual emission reductions fall short of expectations. Because the emissions reductions under a carbon tax are not guaranteed, it is important that this bill includes an emissions target mechanism.
  • The bill includes provisions intended to provide relief to low-income households through dividend payments and to help address disparate regional economic effects, which is important for ensuring equity.
  • While the bill would pause regulations on carbon dioxide emissions on stationary sources while the tax is in effect and achieving the expected emissions reductions, it would retain EPA’s underlying authority. We believe retaining this authority is important, as it may prove essential if the carbon tax does not succeed in driving the expected emissions reductions.

Like all important legislation, any climate proposal advances through the incremental introduction of bills that explore different approaches to addressing the issues at hand. This bill restarts a bipartisan search in Congress for a climate solution. It doesn’t have to have all the right answers, but it is a critical contribution to the debate. WRI looks forward to engaging with policymakers on how to design a price on carbon pollution as part of a comprehensive approach to the climate challenge. WRI stands ready to engage in constructive conversation with policy makers and others on these topics.

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