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Most Americans Support a Carbon Tax - So Why Don't We Have One Yet?

Congress. Duh.

SCIENCE AF STAFF
31 OCT 2017
 

Americans are ready and willing to pay for a carbon tax, according to a national survey by Yale scientists.

The survey found that, on average, Americans were willing to pay $177 per year, which is about 14 percent more for each household on average. Overall, this would amount to an annual tax revenue of about $22.3 billion. 

 

The Yale survey also found that Americans were quite selfless in their preferences for where the tax revenue should go. Instead of receiving the revenue in dividends or reduced income taxes, a majority said they want the extra funds to be invested in clean energy and infrastructure. 

Their generosity does not stop there. Nearly 72 percent thought the funds should be used to assist displaced coal industry workers, and about 57 percent wanted to use the money to assist low-income communities that are most vulnerable to climate change.

The results are consistent with a survey from last year that found Americans are willing to pay an average of $15 to $20 a month to combat climate change. Plus, another Yale survey found that overall, 78 percent of registered voters support taxing and/or regulating carbon pollution, including 67 percent of Republicans. 

It's not just the public, either. Experts also think the carbon tax is a good idea.

According to a New York University survey, a whopping 81 percent of expert economists said the most efficient way to reduce carbon pollution is through a market-based system. Even Exxon Mobil - a company that hid the science of climate change from the public for decades - has come out in support of the measure.

 

So if experts, industry and the public agree this is a good idea, what's the hold up?

Congress, of course.

Many Republican Senators during Obama's presidency opposed raising taxes for any reason whatsoever. In fact, many of them signed a "Tax Protection Pledge" that laid this promise out in writing.

So even though President Obama supported a carbon tax, without bipartisan congressional support he was forced to implement climate regulations like the Clean Power Plan instead. The Clean Power Plan, which provides economic incentives to states that reduce carbon emissions, has been loosely compared to a cap and trade system. Now, President Trump is also calling for its repeal.

Still, the idea of a carbon tax is gaining popularity among Republicans, who see it as a conservative solution to climate change.

Earlier this year, a report was released from the Climate Leadership Council that called for the Obama-era climate regulations to be replaced with a carbon tax. The report, which is titled The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends, proposed starting with a carbon tax of $40 per ton. It then promises to return the income directly to its citizens through carbon dividends.

 

The initiative is backed by leading economists and several prominent Republicans, including cabinet members from President Reagan's administration and George Bush's administration.

Members of the Climate Leadership Council have even tried to convince the White House to support a revenue-neutral carbon tax. In May, Sean Spicer hinted that the administration was at least considering such a measure.

"I think there's a robust debate going on with respect to comprehensive tax reform," Spicer said.

"Obviously, there's a lot of people who recognize that we haven't [had] comprehensive tax reform since 1986 and that there's a lot of pieces in this that we need to examine and get to and there's a lot of voices and opinions that get shared with [President Trump]."

After the media picked up the story, President Trump made his stance on the issue clear: 

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But there is still hope.

A report from Politico earlier this year suggested a rift had been created amongst White House officials on the issue of a carbon tax. If studies and surveys continue to show wide-spread, bipartisan support from the American public, at some point legislators will have to start listening to their constituents.

The survey was published in Environmental Research Letters.