Fighting for lower taxes has always been a bread and butter issue for Republicans — and a good thing given the Democrats’ propensity toward raising them and “spreading the wealth.” However, Republican tax rhetoric veered in a perilous new direction recently when party leaders began attacking efforts to address climate change as an “energy tax” on American families and businesses.
I am sure some messaging wonk thought characterizing climate legislation as a tax increase would score political points in a bad economy, but it is exactly this kind of shortsighted thinking that has eroded public faith in Republicans’ ability to recognize and solve the nation’s problems.
By framing the costs associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering America’s dangerous dependence on oil as a tax, Republicans are boxing themselves firmly into the corner of climate change skeptics and forgoing any role in — or credit for — solving the problem.
It also pulls the rug out from under Republicans who are offering their own proposals to address climate change.
Any cap-and-trade bill, or competing alternatives such as cap-and-dividend or carbon tax measures, would take the fundamental step of putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, thus sending a signal that CO2 emissions carry a cost and free disposal in the atmosphere is no longer appropriate.
Environmental legislation works to reduce harmful emissions by putting a price on those emissions, either directly or more commonly, by limiting their disposal into the environment. The Clean Air Act put a price on sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other harmful air pollutants. The Clean Water Act put a price on sewage, hazardous chemical wastes, and other types of water pollution.
Those laws, despite having their own Chicken Little prognosticators of economic ruin, passed with bipartisan support and collaboration. As a result, our air and water is cleaner, the sky didn’t fall, and both parties can be proud of their role in making our nation a better place to live.
Today, our Republican leaders are content to busy themselves with political gamesmanship that threatens to undermine any effort to address climate change. To conjure up their tax claim Minority Leader Boehner and others have been publicly distorting a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study of cap-and-trade proposals, over the written objections of the study’s author, to exaggerate the costs cited in the study while omitting the benefits.
Instead of using loaded language and phony data to poison the climate debate, both the party and the nation would be far better served if GOP leaders would rally behind those in the party who have their own plans for addressing climate change — and let them work constructively to help craft balanced legislation that does not, as Democrats are prone to do on their own, needlessly expand the federal bureaucracy.
That approach would actually make sense to the vast majority of Americans who believe that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The current one does nothing to earn the confidence of voters, and runs a real risk of landing our party on the wrong side of history.