Republican Elder Statesman Calls for Carbon Tax

George Shultz with Ronald Reagan outside the Oval Office. 12/4/86. Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

When it comes to Republican street cred, few people alive today have more of it than George Shultz. Shultz was a member of the Council of Economic Advisors during the Eisenhower administration and Secretary of Labor under Nixon, and served as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State during most of the eight years Reagan was in office. He's a Distinguished Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, perhaps the single most influential conservative think tank in the U.S.

Those are some bullet-proof GOP credentials, but Shultz's views on climate change and alternative energy couldn't be further from those held by the majority of Republican Party activists.

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In an interview published Thursday with Mark Golden and Mark Shwartz of Stanford's Precourt Institute for Energy, Shultz spoke about his support for a federal tax on carbon, a proposal that is anathema to conventional energy companies and to the modern-day GOP.

We have to have a system where all forms of energy bear their full costs. For some, their costs are the costs of producing the energy, but many other forms of energy produce side effects, like pollution, that are a cost of society. The producers don't bear that cost, society does. There has to be a way to level the playing field and cause those forms of energy to bear their true costs. That means putting a price on carbon.

We've studied a variety of ways to do that, and to me the most appealing way is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. That is, you distribute all the revenue from the carbon tax in some fashion back to taxpayers, so there is no fiscal drag on the economy.

Surprising words, especially compared to recent positions on renewable energy and climate change staked out by prominent fellow members of the Republican Party.

Shultz, who helped spearhead the 2010 campaign to protect California's landmark climate bill AB 32, is obviously a bit of an energy wonk, as shown in this video profile produced by Stanford University:

How does Shultz propose to persuade his fellow Republicans to follow his renewable energy lead? Among other things, he tries finding common ground, speaking their language on issues such as National Security -- not a hard job for the man who was Secretary of State at the end of the Cold War.

There are three major issues raised in the energy area. One is national security. We know that we don't want to be vulnerable to sources of supply that are uncertain or to send billions of dollars to regimes that are not our friends. Then there's the economy. Every spike in the price of oil has put our economy in a recession. We want to have more diverse energy resources so our economy won't be so vulnerable to the oil market.

The globe is warming, which is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. The Arctic is melting. If you could bring together the constituencies concerned with national security, the economy and the environment -- both local and global -- that would be a potent coalition.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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