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Bipartisan carbon-tax bill introduced in the Senate offers glimpse at future

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Senators Flake and Coons

Enlarge / US Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE). (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Senators Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced a senate bill to impose a carbon tax on major industrial carbon emitters throughout the US. The Senate bill is a version of a bipartisan House bill that was introduced in late November. Although most analysis agrees that neither bill stands any chance of becoming law, they are important as concrete examples of avenues that US lawmakers are taking to explore bipartisan climate-change policy.

Traditionally, Republicans have resisted addressing climate change in any way whatsoever, with current Republican President Donald Trump baselessly calling climate science into question and hiring agency secretaries, advisors, and administrators who repeat similarly empty claims. But some Republicans in the House and the Senate have pushed back on this, especially in Florida where sea-level rise and increasingly violent hurricanes threaten the economy more directly than in other parts of the US.

The carbon-tax idea was re-introduced this year by Florida’s Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo. (Curbelo lost his seat to a Democrat in the midterm election this year.) The idea of a carbon tax is attractive to many Republicans because it discourages carbon emissions via a market mechanism and protects big companies like Exxon from other kinds of government intervention. A carbon tax is a predictable, monetary lever with uniform increases over several decades; in other words, it’s easy for companies to plan for in their balance sheets.

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