Updated at 7:51 a.m. on June 25, 2019
For a good many years, a carbon tax was climate policy’s hottest plan.
The idea—that polluters should pay a dollar amount for every ton of climate-warming carbon dioxide they pump into the atmosphere—seemed like it had everything. It fought climate change, a progressive goal. It avoided new government regulation, a win for conservatives. And it elevated the magic of the market, delighting libertarians.
The idea looked even better when proponents proposed a “revenue neutral” version, distributing the funds back to Americans in the form of a quarterly check. Such a plan would avoid growing the government and would also lay the groundwork for some kind of universal basic income. It had something for everyone.
So it’s no surprise that in the middle years of this decade, the idea of a revenue-neutral carbon tax found support from think tanks, grassroots organizations, elite Republicans, and members of Congress.
Today, much of that support still exists. But the politics of a carbon tax have become scrambled. Even if a carbon tax has much to credit it ideologically, it may lack the political support of other climate proposals. A new poll, provided exclusively to The Atlantic, suggests that Americans may prefer a Green New Deal–style policy of climate-targeted investment and regulation to a revenue-neutral carbon tax. It’s one of several shifts, underscored by the events of the past month, that suggest a grim future for the once-optimistic plan.