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A Republican Plan To Address Climate Change

May 16, 2016, 11:05 PM UTC

There is a strong conservative case that Republicans can make to address the threat of climate change, even if some in the party still dispute the consensus science, according to Jim Connaughton, the former director of the White House Office of Environmental Policy under George W. Bush.

“George W. would say all the time that we’re not playing small ball, that you’ve got to go big and bold,” said Connaughton, speaking Monday at the Fortune Brainstorm E conference in Carlsbad, Calif. “The first thing we’ve got to do is push the Congress to debate and come up with a carbon emission target, whether they accept [the 2015 Paris climate accord] or not, so long as the number is down.”

After that, Connaughton says, Republicans have an opportunity to effectively integrate their own broader policy goals into the new carbon plan (in large part because there would now be market goals).

First, Connaughton argues that the current maze of over 100 federal and state mandates on CO2 could be simplified into a series of market-based mandates (one for power, one for fuel use, etc.), thus appealing to general GOP interest in cutting complex and duplicative rules.

Second, he believes that all energy-related subsidies―both for renewable and fossil fuels―would be phased out on a schedule. “When we incentivize everyone, no one is incentivized,” Connaughton says. “Take half the savings and give it to R&D.”

Finally, and most importantly, Connaughton says you’ve got to “follow the money.” More specifically, lower the corporate tax rate on American companies, and let them repatriate their money held overseas. The result, he believes, will be billions of new dollars spent on clean energy technologies ― some by the companies themselves, some in terms of capital stock turnover. It’s not the carbon tax desired by many on the Democratic side of the aisle, but Connaughton believes it would have the same practical impact.