When Marco Rubio says that America “is a country, not a planet,” he’s saying that we don’t need to bother cutting pollution because we’re not the worst offenders. If China, which burns nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined, isn’t trying to limit its pollution, why should we? Rubio’s wording may be unique, but his rhetoric isn’t — it’s a key argument for the Republican Party. As long as China’s emitting unchecked carbon pollution, why can’t we?

Premier Hu Jintao meets with President Obama
Premier Hu Jintao meets with President Obama.

Well, so much for that argument. From Xinhua, the official press agency of the Chinese government:

China will proactively introduce a set of new taxation policies designed to preserve the environment, including a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, according to a senior official with the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

The government will collect the environmental protection tax instead of pollutant discharge fees, as well as levy a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, Jia Chen, head of the ministry’s tax policy division, wrote in an article published on the MOF’s website. …

China is among the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gas and has set goals for cutting emissions. The government has vowed to reduce carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of economic output, by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 in comparison to 2005 levels.

China’s Ministry of Finance has considered a carbon tax before, with the aim of having it in place by 2012. Some suggested that the timing of that proposal, on the heels of the disastrous Copenhagen climate conference, was meant to blunt criticism over China’s role in scuttling those talks. It’s hard to see what similar politics might be at play in this case, although at least one climate-change-denial site suggests that the move is a feint to encourage America to act on a carbon tax first.

Fat chance of that. Republicans may be using China’s pollution as an excuse to resist increasing the cost of carbon emissions, but if China implements a carbon tax, pollution apologists will just point instead to India. If India acted on carbon, they’d point to the economy. The goal isn’t to offer sincere critique; it’s to delay internalizing the cost of carbon pollution for their allies in the fossil fuel industry.

If Marco Rubio is lucky, that delay will last until after the 2016 primaries. If he’s got any goal in mind, it’s that.