Capitol Alert

A carbon tax Jerry Brown thinks could have potential

California Gov. Jerry Brown, from left, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry listen to speakers on a video screen before the unveiling of the “Doomsday Clock,” which measures the likelihood of a global cataclysm, at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, from left, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry listen to speakers on a video screen before the unveiling of the “Doomsday Clock,” which measures the likelihood of a global cataclysm, at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. AP

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday said a tax on carbon dioxide emissions has potential and suggested he was open to the idea.

The Democratic governor, a fiscal moderate but longtime champion of environmental causes, noted support among some conservatives for a revenue-neutral carbon tax, in which proceeds are not held by the government.

“Former secretary of treasury and former secretary of state (George) Shultz and Arthur Laffer, the Reagan adviser on supply-side economics, have both strongly endorsed a revenue neutral carbon tax, and I would emphasize, from the conservative point of view, revenue neutrality is key because a carbon tax would require a reduction in other taxes,” Brown told reporters on a conference call. “Other people will have other points of view, and it’s a whole issue of how popular that might be, or how political. But I think there’s more potential down that road given the support of both conservatives and liberals.”

Any time you talk about a tax, we politicians are going to tread very, very lightly.

Gov. Jerry Brown, on the possibility of a carbon emissions tax

Brown did not embrace an effort in 2014 to adopt a carbon tax instead of expanding California’s cap-and-trade program to vehicle fuels. He said Tuesday, “Any time you talk about a tax, we politicians are going to tread very, very lightly.”

Brown’s remarks came as he and the governors of 16 other states announced a nonbinding and broadly-written pact to work together to expand renewable energy, encourage clean transportation and modernize their states’ energy infrastructure.

Unlike the nonbinding agreements that Brown has promoted among subnational governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the accord does not specifically address climate change.

In a conference call with Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, said climate change “really wasn’t a topic of conversation” among governors forging the agreement.

By leaving climate change out of the discussion surrounding renewable energy, Brown said politicians could find common ground and, “without having to wait for Washington, we out here among the states can accomplish something very important.”

The partisan divide over climate change hangs over the agreement, however. Though the pact includes a handful of Republicans, the states they represent are almost exclusively those that are not challenging President Barack Obama’s controversial Clean Power Plan.

More than two dozen states sued to block the plan, which would require states to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by a third by 2030. The U.S. Supreme Court last week put the plan on hold until a lower court resolves the legal dispute.

On Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker issued an executive order prohibiting agencies in his state from complying with the plan.

“Clearly, this rule exceeds the President’s authority and would place an undue burden on the Wisconsin ratepayers and manufacturers,” Walker said in a prepared statement. “The stay granted last week by the Supreme Court validates our concerns about this rule.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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