A Conservative Escape Plan On Climate Change

Peter Bryn | Engineer formerly with ExxonMobil

As a Texan, I believe in accountability, properly-functioning markets and limited government. I understand the importance of affordable energy, and in having the maturity to address big issues. It is for these reasons that I regularly call on my fellow conservatives to take a more serious approach toward managing energy and climate change risks.

As EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said: “We can be pro-energy and pro-environment.” I agree. We need to shake the false narrative that reduced emissions and affordable energy are mutually exclusive things. We’re Americans. We can have both.

Now, it’s true that many bad climate solutions have been proposed or implemented, from corn ethanol mandates to electric car tax credits to cap and trade. This grab bag of mandates and subsidies is not cost effective and does not solve the problem. Among climate advocates, at the extreme end some say that capitalism itself is to blame, while others dismiss proven solutions like nuclear energy.

Add this all up, and it’s understandable why folks like Rep. Lamar Smith — most recently in a Daily Caller op-ed — continue to play the tired tune of attacking the rather mundane science behind climate change. But he and others who make these same arguments have never really had a problem with the science. That’s a scapegoat. Instead, the problem critics have had has been with the solutions. The real concern is that our innovators are neither good enough nor smart enough to solve the low-carbon, affordable energy puzzle. So, folks dismiss there’s a problem altogether.

But what if addressing climate risks didn’t mean government tinkering? What if we could do it affordably and without implementing complex trading schemes? What if the free market could find solutions instead of Washington regulators? What if this approach were championed by Texan voices including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former Secretary of State James Baker and our largest oil and gas producers? What if it could give businesses and entrepreneurs maximum transparency and predictability? And all without growing government?

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. The solution is called a revenue-neutral carbon fee.

The idea is simple. It places a steadily-rising fee on carbon emissions, which sends a clear price signal to the marketplace that we can no longer socialize our pollution. This is a page straight from Milton Friedman, who might say that a carbon fee “internalizes an externality.” This solution also then leaves the free market to find the most cost-effective solutions to reduce emissions.

However, this fee shouldn’t simply be used as a new tax to sneak revenue to the government. So, make it revenue-neutral by returning all collected revenues back to the economy. This can be done by either sending the money back to households in the form of a monthly dividend check, by giving tax relief elsewhere (corporate or personal income taxes) or by some combination of the two.

Why should congressmen such as Rep. Smith support this? First, because Texan natural gas, including in his own district, would be a big winner with this policy. Why? Because in the short term it’ll displace coal and, in the longer term, carbon sequestration will likely keep gas in the game (and allow us to perfect the technology so we can export it to the many countries around the world that are already pricing carbon).

Second, we in Texas believe in accountability. I certainly can’t throw my trash out on the street. Instead, I have to pay for someone to come pick it up. Similarly, why should I be allowed to put my emissions in the atmosphere for free and make others foot the bill as they have to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate? That’s the textbook definition of socializing costs. We didn’t like it when the banks did that in 2008. We shouldn’t like it now.

And, finally, what about the science? We in Texas have some of the best climate scientists in the world, at some of our large companies like ExxonMobil and Shell, and institutions like Texas A&M, the University of Texas and Texas Tech. These folks pretty unanimously agree that putting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere presents a risk for humans. How much this risk is and will cost us is up for legitimate debate, but the answer certainly isn’t zero.

I urge Rep. Smith to kick the nasty habit of dismissing climate science and to instead begin leading with market-based solutions to solve the problem. The congressman recently announced his retirement, but 14 months is plenty of time for a turnaround!

Peter Bryn is an engineer formerly with ExxonMobil, and is a Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer based in Houston.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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