Sarah Menoher Freifeld | A Conservative Choice on Climate

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Historically, climate change has been perceived as a cause celebre of left-leaning activists since conservatives have been reticent to voice concerns about the issue. 

However, conservatives now recognize that America’s economic status, international standing and national security are inextricably linked to climate matters. GOP loyalists are beginning to express interest in designing forward-looking environmental policies that reflect their party’s values.

Organizations such as RepublicEn, The American Conservation Coalition, The Climate Leadership Council, Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends, The Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions, Citizens Climate Lobby, and Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship offer a forum in which to develop these policies. 

Several prominent Republicans — such as former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and George P. Schultz, former chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers Martin S. Feldstein and N. Gregory Mankiw, and former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. — recognize that climate leadership is not only a moral responsibility but also a partisan one.

These groups and policy makers perceive the climate challenge as an opportunity to advance GOP commitments to free enterprise and limited government by creating an economic setting that encourages industries to develop environmental technologies. They agree that no significant impact can be made on global temperatures without a reduction in fossil-fuel use and that this reduction can only happen if a price is placed on carbon. 

Instead of seeing this price as a burden on consumers, they see it as a stimulus to the open market, especially if consumers receive a dividend as a reward for reducing carbon consumption. In this line of thinking, government takes a back seat to private industry.

Conservation conservatives aim to protect other core values as well, such as lowering taxes and defending our nation. They worry that, as government funds are drained to deal with extreme weather conditions like wildfires and hurricanes, taxes will increase. They also recognize that climate change threatens national security — for example, military bases are destroyed as sea-levels rise, and international tensions worsen as parts of the world become uninhabitable. These conservatives are alarmed that, for more than a decade, the Defense Department has factored climate change into its budget requests, but congressional Republicans have not acknowledge this need. 

Conservation conservatives hope to preserve their political heritage by confronting all these issues.

A bill currently in the House of Representatives should appeal to Republicans who share these concerns. H.R. 763 — also called The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act — is a bipartisan proposal to place a carbon fee on fossil fuels at their sources of origin (e.g., mines, refineries, first pipelines). Each year, this fee increases — with adjustments for inflation — until greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 90% of acceptable standards. Rather than acting as a tax kept by government, the fee is returned to taxpayers in the form of cash dividends. These dividends offset households’ initial increase in energy expenses while also incentivizing private industry to become more energy-efficient. 

Knowing the price of fossil fuels in advance, businesses can plan their budgets more effectively. H.R. 763 also includes a carbon border-adjustment, something many nations already have. Most recently, the European Union decided that, starting in 2023, it too will begin enacting a carbon border-adjustment. If the U.S. does not instigate its own fee, American businesses will be disadvantaged in the world market. Studies show that, even if no other lowering-measures are taken, H.R. 763 can reduce carbon emissions by at least 40% of the 2015 level in the first 12 years and 90% of the 2015 level by 2050. The administration of this market-based program is self-funding, so there is no need for yearly government appropriations or new bureaucracies.

Given that future climate policies will be aligned with all aspects of the economy, it is in Republicans’ best interest to rebrand themselves as stewards of the environment. Actively engaging in the climate conversation is essential if the GOP wants to remain relevant as a party. The incoming administration’s readiness to address the climate issue provides Republicans with the opportunity to not only get in the game but also become key players. The alternative is to give up a chance at leadership in addressing the most pressing issue of our time.

I encourage our district’s congressional representative, Mike Garcia, to cosponsor H.R. 763 in order to help create the political balance needed for climate legislation to occur. Doing so will demonstrate his commitment to both our planet and Republican values.

Sarah Menoher Freifeld lives in Valencia and is a member of the Santa Clarita chapter of Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

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