Senior Republicans Team Up With Exxon And Stephen Hawking For Bold Climate Proposal


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Would you support a tax on this rather annoying greenhouse gas? mikeledray/Shutterstock

Although Republicans and energy companies aren’t the first words that pop into your head when you think of climate advocacy, the times are a-changing. Not only are market forces ensuring conglomerates are divesting in fossil fuels (primarily oil and coal) and investing in renewable energy, but even senior Republicans are coming out and declaring their support for action.

The Climate Leadership Council (CLC) is one such mixture of Republicans and energy companies that have come up with their own plan to fight climate change. Specifically, they propose a federal “carbon dividend”, where carbon emissions will be taxed, and the funds will be invested back into the public sector.


The CLCs founding members include BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil, as well as General Motors. James Baker III (Secretary of Treasury under Reagan and Secretary of State under Bush I), as well as George Shultz (Secretary of State under Reagan), are also listed as founders.

“A $40 price per ton on carbon, rising in a predictable way, could be the centerpiece of US action and leadership on climate,” Andrew Steer President of the World Resources Institute – a CLC partner – told reporters.

This dividend will have one of two effects. If a company decides to keep pumping out greenhouse gases (GHGs), then the revenue collected will be given to the America public in some way or another. Alternatively, the high price means that companies may choose to find low-carbon methods to fuel their businesses.

The plan is inherently conservative - but will it win over the GOP itself? Calin Tatu/Shutterstock

“In bringing together major companies with prominent thinkers and policy experts across the political spectrum in support of this proposal, the CLC is delivering a clear message to elected officials in Washington: putting a price on carbon is a powerful tool for unleashing markets to strengthen the U.S. economy and rapidly reduce carbon emissions,” Steer added.


“President Trump and Congress would do well to heed these voices and put in place policies like the CLC proposal to achieve these twin goals.”

It’s not just Republicans and energy companies that have joined the CLC, mind you. Prominent scientists such as Stephen Hawking and philanthropists like Michael Bloomberg have also put their name to the plan. It’s a serious plan with some serious backers – but will it work?

This idea of some form of carbon tax has been proposed several times before, and it’s already in operation in other territories across the world. However, as noted by the CLC, it has run into plenty of problems in America, mainly because it keeps getting referred to as a “tax.”

Whenever Democrats propose a carbon tax, it often causes the public to become wary – particularly Republican-leaning voters, who hate the idea of higher taxes in general. Several senior Republicans have quietly proposed a carbon tax too, but these plans have received little attention.


The announcement by the CLC carefully highlights the phrase “dividend”, whereas “tax” is featured less prominently. In light of the recent global uptick in support for the Paris agreement, it seems likely that they’re hoping to ride this wave and get the attention of Congress. Only time will tell if they succeed.

Congress isn't likely to bite, sadly. Diego Grandi/Shutterstock

Two-thirds of Americans supported the US staying in the Paris climate agreement, and when the President announced he intended to withdraw from it, 60 percent said this was a bad decision that would affect the environment and the economy.

With numbers like that, it’s actually unsurprising that a sizeable number of Republicans want to do something about climate change, even if it doesn’t involve Paris.

Just look at the Climate Alliance, a coalition of US Governors, mayors and business leaders that still support strong climate change action. Notably, this group is bipartisan.


However, the CLC’s rather conservative plan will run into the same problem that all carbon tax plans encounter: other Republicans. With coal and oil funding Senate and House GOPs at record levels, the only way you’re likely to see Congressional support for any action on climate change in any capacity is if either chamber is flipped in the upcoming midterms.


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