Several eco-Right groups burrowed into the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February 2020. Their calls for big-government solutions to address the claimed effects of climate change smack of left-of-center environmental activism and have little in common with limited government, free market, or constitutional conservativism. And their connections with and funding from left-wing sources reinforces this suspicion.
The Eco-Right at CPAC
Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends (YCCD), a nonprofit advocacy group targeting college-age Republicans and recent college graduates, occupied a prominent position in CPAC’s exhibit hall, where the group promoted its climate change agenda. These self-described “young conservatives” seek to place a price on CO2 with the expectation that it would spur industry to develop new technology. “This would level the playing field for energy competition and unleash the greatest force on earth—American innovation—toward a cleaner and more prosperous future,” the group claims on its website. Once the price is set, the plan then calls for all of the new tax revenue to revert back to the American people in the form of carbon dividends.
YCCD frequently invokes the name of Ronald Reagan in their literature and on their website. They also take their inspiration from James Baker, secretary of the treasury and chief of staff under Reagan, and from George Schultz, who served as Reagan’s secretary of state. Baker and Schultz were instrumental in crafting a carbon dividend plan on behalf of the Climate Leadership Council, an international research and advocacy group based in Washington, DC, that includes former government officials. The Baker-Schultz plan calls for a tax on carbon that would be “gradually increased” over time and then “returned to the American people on an equal and monthly basis via dividend checks, direct deposits or contributions to their individual retirement accounts,” according to the council’s description of the plan.
The fact that college Republicans identifying themselves as young conservatives are modeling their carbon dividend proposal after the Baker-Schultz plan should be troubling to anyone who believes in constitutional limited government.
Marc Morano, founder and executive editor of the ClimateDepot.com, explained during an interview at CPAC, “The idea behind a carbon tax and carbon dividend seems to be that it would somehow be less bureaucratic because you would have the price on carbon instead of regulations.” Morano continued:
But once you give the federal government a massive new power like this, you are giving it a blank check for the future. This is really just another scheme to raise costs and it’s dead on arrival. Whatever might be passed, will be reinterpreted by judges and it will become a massive new tax to go after the energy sector. This dividend proposal is really about redistributing wealth. The fact that the heroes of this movement are Baker and Schultz is very telling because they were the liberal establishment Republicans in the Reagan White House. They were not movement conservatives.
(ClimateDepot is a project of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, widely known as CFACT, a nonprofit based in Washington, DC, that favors free-market environment policies and challenges the notion that human activity is responsible for catastrophic climate change.)
By contrast, YCCD insists that “climate instability” threatens the American way of life and that their proposal could “lay the groundwork for a free market climate breakthrough.” Kiera O’Brien, YCCD founding president, described the carbon dividend proposal as a “revenue neutral” plan during an interview at CPAC: “The idea is to place a price on carbon with the support of business and give quarterly dividends back to the public,” she said. “This would help to roll back regulations and unleash American innovation. We are against expensive proposals like the Green New Deal. We are for the free market.”
But Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC, advises young CPAC attendees inclined to support carbon dividend plans to take a harder look at scientific findings that debunk alarmist theories:
The group assumes, without citing any supporting evidence, that that global temperatures will rise to the point that ‘action’ will have to be taken. After accepting the unsupported premise of the alarmists, it then moves on to its solution, which it calls carbon dividends. But this is really a massive wealth-redistribution scheme that will have no effect whatever on the climate but will tax the fossil-fuel industry and the infrastructure that supports it out of existence, leaving the country dependent on intermittent and unaffordable renewable energy for its electricity and transportation fuel.
YCCD formed just a few months ago in 2019, which means its financial records are not available to the public. The group is closely aligned with Students for Carbon Dividends, a nonprofit based in New York that also supports the Baker-Schultz plan.
The board of directors for Students for Carbon Dividends includes Ted Halstead, the founder and chairman of the Climate Leadership Council, whom InfluenceWatch describes as “an environmental activist and advocate for left-leaning environmental policies.”
Although the Climate Leadership Council markets its carbon tax plan as a conservative plan because it is “revenue neutral” and co-authored by prominent Republicans, InfluenceWatch finds that the council’s founding members and many of its leaders “are known for their center-left views,” Moreover, financial records available at InfluenceWatch show the council has received “substantial grants from Arnold Ventures, a for-profit extension of the left-wing mega-funder the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.” Since 2017, the council has received more than $4 million from the foundation.
The other carbon tax advocacy group staking a claim to conservatism during the CPAC conference was RepublicEn, which is based out of the Center for Climate Change Communication (4C) at George Mason University. RepublicEn was founded by former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), who now serves as its executive director.
Alex Bozmoski, director of strategy and operations for RepublicEn, participated in a CPAC panel discussion with climate skeptics from the CO2 Coalition, a nonprofit group based in Arlington, Virginia, that includes dozens of scientists, scholars, and policy analysts who have found that increased CO2 has benefits for the environment and humanity. During their presentations representing the CO2 Coalition, Dr. William Happer and Genesis Torres argued that CO2 is not a pollutant and is in fact beneficial to animal and plant life. In contrast, Bozmoski opened his presentation with personal attacks on Harper and Torres, further arguing—strangely—that their research violated the scientific method, according to James Taylor, a senior follow for environment and energy policy at the Heartland Institute. Taylor sees RepublicEn as trying to “masquerade as conservative Republicans” while advancing a carbon tax plan that would result in bigger, more intrusive government.
InfluenceWatch finds that RepublicEn is closely tied in with left-of-center groups such as the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, which is part of the U.S. Climate Action Network, a larger coalition of liberal environmental activists. The George Mason University 4C outfit that houses RepublicEn has received “millions of dollars in grants from left-wing funders including the Energy Foundation, Skoll Global Treats Fund and the Sea Change Foundation.”
The “Conservative” Green Groups
Kenny Stein, director of policy for the Institute for Energy Research, a nonprofit that favors free-market solutions in the energy sector, views left-of-center environmental activism now evident at CPAC as part of a larger effort to sell big government schemes:
The rise of “conservative” front groups in the energy and environment policy space is not a new phenomenon, we have seen these groups proliferate year after year. Without exception these groups rely on funding from left wing billionaires and San Francisco–based foundations, sometimes with additional contributions from various large corporations looking to buy green indulgences. IER’s Big Green Inc. database shows how a small number of these foundations have spent billions of dollars over the past decade to cultivate influence and support for their extremist environmental policies across the country.
The purpose of these front groups we see at CPAC and elsewhere is twofold. First, they are meant to create an illusion of a broad, grassroots movement on the right in favor of government regulation and intervention in energy. Thus, the more groups, the better for the illusion. Secondly, these groups are being used by these left-wing foundations to infiltrate and undermine the broad consensus that exists on the right side of the spectrum in favor of freer markets in energy. There is nothing conservative about the sorts of big government, tax-hiking policy proposals these groups are pitching.
So, what does CPAC say about the heightened influence leftie environmental activists have been wielding at CPAC?
Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU), which runs CPAC, said during an interview at the conference that the ACU is opposed to a carbon tax, but he also said that the conference makes room for different viewpoints.
ACU does not support a carbon tax and I don’t support a carbon tax. We don’t mandate that everyone here at CPAC have the same views. A tax on carbon would be just another vein to suck the blood of American consumers and it would lead to higher energy prices. The Green New Deal, for instance, is nothing more than another mandate to burden the American people with higher costs without doing anything for the environment.
Schlapp also said he wasn’t particularly familiar with the Young Conservatives for a Carbon Dividend and didn’t know about their source of funding.
Curiously, today, CPAC sent out an email with the subject “Solve climate change with common sense, not hysteria” inviting recipients to join RepublicEn and the #EcoRight movement.
The source from the Young Republican Federation suspects that green activists with the American Conservation Coalition will use their resolution as leverage with pliable Republicans on Capitol Hill now that it has passed.
As Cohen noted,
If you are a rival of the United States in China, Russia, or Iran, this is a dream come true. The young people who have joined the YCCD have been thoroughly coned, and once the group’s 1099s become available, it will be fascinating to see by whom.