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Baker, Still ‘Climate Skeptic,’ Again Advocates for Carbon Tax, Import Tariff to Reduce Emissions

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III reiterated his plea last week for Democrats and Republicans to come together to fight climate change.

Speaking last Thursday at the inaugural Global Energy Transitions Summit with Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, the elder GOP statesman said, “I don’t think we ought to let our national debate on this issue wait until somehow ‘the moment is right.’

“Such a perfect moment may never arrive if we spend too much time debating the exact role that mankind may play in climate change and not enough time seeking solutions.”

Earlier this year, Baker and a coalition of veteran Republican officials lobbied the Trump administration to advocate for a national carbon tax. According to the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), nearly all of the Obama administration’s climate policies could be eliminated if a rising carbon tax were implemented.

Besides the carbon tax, which would initially be set at $40/ton, the market-based plan relies on imposing tariffs for imports from countries that do not control carbon emissions. The end result, Baker told a lunchtime audience, would be an overall industry reduction in carbon emissions.

The extra benefit: funds collected through the tax and tariffs would be returned to the American people in monthly dividends.

The combination of taxes and incentives would allow “onerous” policies enacted during the Obama administration be eliminated, he said.

“It seems to me that this solution should be able to attract support from both sides of our political divide on this issue,” Baker said.

President Trump announced in June his intention to withdraw from the global Paris Agreement to reduce climate emissions, and his administration is rolling back Clean Power Plan regulations, keeping his campaign vow to undo the Obama administration’s “overreliance on government regulations to reduce carbon emissions.”

However, the Trump administration’s regulation rollback without taking any other action to reduce emissions, is not a panacea, he said. The elder statesman, who claims to be a climate skeptic, said it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Once the combination of taxes and incentives are in place from the carbon tax and import tariff, energy regulations that are no longer needed could be phased out.

“It seems to me that this solution should be able to attract support from both sides of our political divide on this issue,” Baker said.

“It’s my view that we ought to take prudent measures to limit the scale of any potential damage. I’m a hunter and a fisherman. I like clean air and clean water. And I don’t want to see the climate destroyed and my opportunity to get out there in the outdoors.

“These measures I’m talking about would represent an insurance policy, so to speak, against the risks that are associated with climate change,” he said.

“These measures, however, are going to have to take into account the importance of economic growth to human welfare or they won’t be politically sustainable. And of course they have to be politically sustainable.”

Under the U.S. democratic system, “politics is about gaining and exercising power. That’s why parties exist...But power cannot and should not be an end in and of itself. It should be a means to implement policies that advance the freedom, security and the well being of our citizens.”

Baker said he joined the CLC precisely for those reasons. If properly implemented, the blueprint would “substantially” reduce greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time eliminate some onerous regulations “that are a hallmark of our current energy policies.”

As long as political parties talk past each other, problems only fester.

“And so I would submit to you that the potentially tragic results of inaction are not worth the risk.”
The need to find a compromise solution “is quite acute,” Baker said. “When we battle across partisan lines the way we have been doing, there’s a great possibility that nothing at all will happen to remedy the risk.”

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