Carlos Curbelo’s latest effort to shift the climate change debate within the Republican Party has a long way to go.
As the Miami Republican prepares to officially unveil a sweeping carbon tax bill on Monday that would provide $700 billion for infrastructure by taxing coal and natural gas emissions, House Republicans overwhelmingly voted for a resolution on Thursday expressing that a potential tax on carbon emissions would be detrimental to the U.S. economy.
Only six of 236 Republicans voted against the resolution, including Curbelo and retiring Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Curbelo argued that the resolution’s language was correct in that a carbon tax on its own would hurt the economy, but that a carbon tax paired with other ideas would help it.
“When you ask this question in a vacuum, is any tax detrimental to economic growth? It’s usually going to be yes,” Curbelo said. “But when you put it in context and you show how [a carbon tax] can be a component of a broader policy that is focused on winning the future, then it makes a whole lot more sense.”
Curbelo’s massive bill would repeal the federal gas tax and instead tax fossil fuels at the source. In exchange, the bill would enact a moratorium on certain environmental regulations if lower carbon emissions are met.
“Next week, you’ll see major legislation authored by a Republican and cosponsored by other Republicans to kind of show a good solution that... takes into account the cost of carbon emissions,” Curbelo said. “We wanted to make it as fair as possible and that’s why we repeal the gas tax. This is not about punishing consumers or punishing producers, it’s about making sure that we can hand off a clean, healthy planet to future generations while being sensitive to economic realities.”
But the political reality is that his bill is likely going nowhere in a Republican-controlled Congress with Donald Trump in the White House. Curbelo acknowledged that the bill, which he has been working on since last year, is about bringing different sides of the debate together and changing the conversation on climate change.
Curbelo’s district, which stretches from West Dade to Key West, includes low-lying territory that makes it one of the most vulnerable in the country when it comes to the effects of climate change. It’s also the most vulnerable for Republicans politically, at least on paper: Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the district by more than 16 points in 2016, though Curbelo won reelection over former Democratic congressman Joe Garcia by over 11 points last cycle.
Curbelo’s likely Democratic opponent in November, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, accused him of political opportunism, noting that he voted in favor of the anti-carbon tax resolution in 2016 along with every other Republican in Congress.
“Just two years ago, Congressman Curbelo opposed a carbon tax and voted with his party to declare that it would supposedly harm American families,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement. “But now that he’s running against someone who has actively worked to fight climate change in our community, he wants us to believe he changed his mind.”
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