Sens. Jeff Flake and Chris Coons to introduce bipartisan carbon tax bill

Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del., are preparing as soon as Wednesday to introduce a carbon tax bill to combat climate change. 

The bill would mirror bipartisan legislation introduced in the House last month which would tax carbon emissions and return the proceeds to American households as a dividend. 

The House version was the first bipartisan carbon tax legislation introduced in nearly a decade.

That bill has eight co-sponsors, including Republican Reps. Francis Rooney of Florida, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and Dave Trott of Michigan, along with Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, the Democratic co-chair of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. 

Both the House and Senate bills would impose a tax of $15 per ton of carbon dioxide in 2019, increasing $10 each year, rising to nearly $100 per ton by 2030. 

The legislation distributes all of the proceeds from the tax as a flat monthly rebate to American households. 

Despite its poor chances of passage anytime soon, the bills represent an increasing willingness from at least some Republicans to address global warming and risk the wrath of many conservatives who view any form of carbon pricing as a tax increase. 

Flake, who is retiring, recently challenged Republicans to do more after the release of a United Nations report that said policymakers worldwide must set comprehensive policy like a carbon tax to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. 

He called the report “pretty dire” in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” in October. 

Asked whether Republicans are moving in the wrong direction on the issue, Flake said “I think so,” adding, “I hope that we can move along with the rest of the world and address this.” 

Flake also co-sponsored a carbon tax bill introduced by Bob Inglis, a former Republican House member from South Carolina, in 2009. 

Many economists say a carbon tax is the most cost-effective way to fight climate change, because it raises the price of carbon-intensive products based on the damage they cause society — so consumers use less of them — and encourages producers to switch to cleaner alternatives if doing so costs less than paying the tax. 

The House and Senate bills are intended as test cases for a carbon-fee-and-dividend model that distributes all of the revenue from the tax into equal portions in the form of a monthly rebate to American households, protecting them from higher energy costs.

Low- and middle-income households would receive more in rebates than they pay in taxes, the bill’s authors say, while high-income households would pay more than they receive. The bills would also while scrap carbon regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, which would be duplicative with a carbon tax. 

Free-market groups have been promoting a similar approach in recent months, with the backing of some oil and gas companies, viewing it as the most realistic way for Republicans to come on board, because it is revenue-neutral by not allowing the government to spend proceeds of the tax. 

Houston-based ConocoPhillips this week committed $2 million over two years to a group promoting a carbon tax-and-dividend. 

ConocoPhillips, after Exxon Mobil, is the second oil and gas giant to give money to Americans for Carbon Dividends, an advocacy organization that lobbies Congress to support a carbon tax-and-dividend plan proposed by the Climate Leadership Council, a group led by two former Republican secretaries of state, James Baker III and George Shultz. 

Despite the inclusion of Republicans, and outreach to them, it’s unlikely the new bill or any carbon tax legislation can pass Congress in 2019.

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