Senior GOP figures are pushing the White House to consider carbon tax to fight climate change

The Phillips 66 refinery in Wilmington last year. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker is leading an effort to persuade the Trump administration to address climate change.
The Phillips 66 refinery in Wilmington last year. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker is leading an effort to persuade the Trump administration to address climate change.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

A group of Republican senior statesmen is pushing for a carbon tax to combat the effects of climate change and hoping to sell the plan to the White House.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker is leading the effort, which also includes former Secretary of State George Shultz. In an opinion piece published Tuesday night in the Wall Street Journal, they argued that “there is mounting evidence of problems with the atmosphere that are growing too compelling to ignore.”

The group will meet Wednesday with White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, senior advisor Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and Kushner’s wife, is also expected to attend, according to a person familiar with the plans who was not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly.


Carbon taxes are designed to raise the cost of fossil fuels to bring down consumption. Baker and Shultz detailed in the opinion piece their plan for a gradually increasing carbon tax, with dividends being returned to consumers, as well as border adjustments for the carbon content of exports and imports and the rollback of regulations.

According to an outline of the plan, the group will call for a gradually increasing carbon tax that “might begin at $40 a ton and increase steadily over time.” It would raise $200 billion to $300 billion annually. The plan would then redistribute tax proceeds back to consumers on a quarterly basis in what are called “carbon dividends” that could be approximately $2,000 annually for a family of four.

The group’s plan would also set “border adjustments” based on carbon, which would result in fees for products from countries without similar carbon pricing systems. And it would seek to roll back regulations enacted under President Obama, including the Clean Power Plan.

So far, President Trump has sent mixed signals on whether or how he will try to slow Earth’s warming temperatures and rising sea levels.

During the transition, Trump met with prominent climate activists Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio. Ivanka Trump, a close advisor to her father, has indicated interest in working on the issue. But the president has also derided climate change science as a hoax and has hired oil industry champions who want to reverse efforts to rein in emissions.

The White House press office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Also supporting Baker’s effort, according to a person familiar with the plans, are former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson; Greg Mankiw, who chaired George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors; and Martin Feldstein, chairman of President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors.


Also on the list are former Wal-Mart Chairman Rob Walton; Thomas Stephenson, a partner at the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital; and Ted Halstead, founder of New America and the Climate Leadership Council.

The vast majority of peer-reviewed studies and climate scientists agree the planet is warming, mostly because of man-made sources. Under Obama, the U.S. dramatically ramped up production of renewable energy from sources such as solar, in part through Energy Department grants.

Some environmental activists support a tax on emissions to help transition from fossil fuels. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) advocated for a carbon tax as part of his bid for the Democratic nomination last year. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, never supported a tax, though she offered a slew of proposals to deal with climate change.

Trump’s secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was the longtime chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil. Exxon was long considered a leading opponent of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. But also under Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon started planning for climate change and voiced support for a carbon tax.

Trump’s choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency is Oklahoma Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt, who also rejects climate change science. And Trump’s nominee to run the Energy Department, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also questioned climate science while working to promote coal-fired power in his home state, though he also oversaw the growth of renewable power; Texas became a leading wind energy producer during his tenure.

Carbon tax legislation is unlikely to receive a warm welcome in the GOP-controlled Congress, where Republicans were staunchly opposed to Obama’s climate agenda. Last year, Republicans in the House approved symbolic measures opposing a fee on crude oil and a carbon tax on emissions.