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Will the Campaign Rhetoric over Climate Change Heat Up?

states can pick and choose among options as to how to reduce their carbon footprints. Already, the country is halfway to cutting its carbon levels by switching out its coal plants for those that run on natural gas. States could also establish carbon trading programs like they have done in the Northeast and in California.

And it’s not just the democratic socialist Sanders who thinks a carbon tax may be even more efficient than a cap-and-trade program. It’s also Ronald Reagan’s former Secretary of State George Shultz.

Meantime, A joint report issued by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute says that pricing carbon is the best way of reducing carbon dioxide releases that are tied to global warming. A $16 tax per ton would raise $1.1 trillion in the first 10 years.

“The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels, so many economists particularly advocate an excise tax on the carbon content of those fuels, or a ‘carbon tax,’” write Adele Morris and Aparna Mathur, economists with Brookings and AEI, respectively, which represent just left and just right of center on the political spectrum.

As for Schultz, he says that the producers don’t bear the environmental price; rather, it is the broader society. And a carbon tax would even the playing field. British Columbia has such a carbon tax, he adds. In that case, the government there gradually increased the tax and then redistributed it to individuals, making it popular.

Schultz says that the Republicans have historically been known as the party that issued policies to protect the environment, noting that it was under President Nixon that the 1970 Clean Air Act passed – the law that has encompassed carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

Today, though, the parties have become increasingly entrenched with the conservatives siding strongly with oil, coal and natural gas interests – fuels that are proven and that supply the preponderance of both power generation and transportation. The liberals, meanwhile, are staunchly supporting the sustainable fuel sector, saying that it is the foundation for the New Energy Economy, although Red States like Kansas and Arizona are embracing wind and solar, respectively.

Industry will be talking about these issues. The electorate will wait and see whether they take center stage among the presidential contenders.

Ken Silverstein  is Editor-in-Chief of Public Utilities Fortnightly.  Contact him at

Please join him on November 16-18 in Scottsdale, Arizona to discuss how disruptive technologies are changing the way electric power is generated and delivered.