Marshall & Aldy for Democracy Journal, “The Great Swap”
Does a deal now gaining momentum across the aisle actually have the potential to break the stalemate on climate change?
Is Donald Trump serious about keeping an “open mind” on climate change? Considering the “drill, baby, drill” cheerleaders he’s put in key Cabinet posts, it’s easy to fear the worst. They appear more than eager to roll back the Obama Administration’s energy and climate policies as soon as possible.
So the safest bet is probably to buckle up for four more years of intractable partisan warfare in Washington over dueling fuels and “alternative” climate science. And yet, there is rising interest, on both sides of the political spectrum, for an idea that has the potential to break this impasse in energy and environmental policy: swapping a carbon tax for many existing environmental regulations and using the revenues to support broader tax reform.
Last week, a group of Republican graybeards led by former secretaries of state James Baker and George Schultz called for a $40 per ton carbon tax, with the proceeds being turned into rebates in the form of dividends to all Americans. Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed a carbon tax during his campaign, and Trump and his daughter Ivanka discussed it with climate change crusader Al Gore after the election.
The Baker-Schultz plan also envisions swapping the carbon tax for an array of less comprehensive regulations—including the proposed Clean Power Plan—that most economists believe are less efficient than an economy-wide carbon tax. All this points to an opportunity for a President who calls himself a world-class dealmaker to craft a grand bargain that gets U.S. energy and climate policy unstuck. It’s a long shot, but the alternative is an endless game of political ping pong in which Republicans ram their energy preferences through Congress unilaterally, only to be reversed when Democrats return to power.