Senator predicts housing crash will precede carbon taxes

By Thomas Frank | 02/28/2024 06:09 AM EST

Plummeting property values would “send one hell of a powerful signal” about climate risk, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in the Capitol.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is a longtime advocate of pricing climate pollution. Francis Chung/POLITICO

A crashing housing market driven by climate change could trigger Congress to impose carbon taxes.

That scenario was described Tuesday by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, chair of the Budget Committee and a longtime advocate of taxing carbon emissions. He said a dramatic economic event could build support for a policy that lawmakers have debated for years but never come close to passing.

A disastrous sequence of events could change that political calculation, Whitehouse said, pointing to a potential housing crash in a storm-prone area such as Florida where property insurers have become insolvent, raised rates and scaled back coverage as climate change intensifies hurricane damage.


“When you can’t get insurance, you can’t get a mortgage. And a property that can’t get a mortgage is really hard to find a buyer for because you’re reduced to cash buyers only. And that’s the precipitating thing that causes the market to collapse,” Whitehouse said at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Whitehouse said at the Brookings Institution