Congress is finally getting serious about climate change

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It’s no secret to anyone that’s paying attention: We’re currently face to face with our last best chance to stave off the worst impacts of climate change — and time is running out.

That’s not hyperbole. It’s just reality. If you doubt me, take a look at the dire string of events that have gripped our country in recent days: drought-fueled wildfires forced evacuations from some of America’s most beloved scenic spaces, while a ferocious hurricane battered the Gulf Coast with catastrophic results and its remnants caused widespread flooding and even death hundreds of miles away in the Northeast.

And that was all just last week.

Needless to say, the U.S. Senate’s work on the impending budget reconciliation package couldn’t be coming at a more crucial moment. And even though our skies may be darkened with smoke and clouds from various climate-catalyzed natural disasters, there is a light on the horizon.

Senate Democrats are now considering the inclusion of a number of smart policies that would provide America with the powerful tools we need in the fight against global warming — especially putting a price on carbon emissions from fossil fuels and major industrial emitters, such as steel, cement and chemicals.

These promising developments should be welcomed by all who care about the future of our planet, because it signals that our elected leaders in Congress are rising to meet this moment. While several climate-focused policies have been discussed for inclusion in the reconciliation package, none has the ability to reduce emissions as quickly or effectively as a carbon price.

At the outset of this process, President Biden set a goal of reducing our emissions by 50 percent by 2030 — putting America on track to become carbon neutral by 2050. But the previously proposed slate of policies for the reconciliation package would only get us to a 45 percent reduction by 2030, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) own modeling — falling short of the stated benchmark at a time when we simply can’t afford to settle for “close enough.”

Thankfully, we don’t have to settle. Adding a carbon price to the package, as Senate Democrats are now considering, would ensure that America meets its targets — and would do so as quickly as possible. Several recent studies have shown that putting a price on carbon pollution would get us to President Biden’s goals, and while other policies in the plan may take a few years to ramp up, a carbon price can be implemented immediately. Lives will be saved in the meantime. 

Even better, it would also serve as an effective complement to the other climate policies that Senate Democrats hope to include in the final package. By immediately reducing emissions and making polluters pay, a carbon price would make other proposed policies, such as a Clean Electricity Payment Program, even more efficient.

And while a carbon price is certainly good for our planet, it’s also good for Americans’ pocketbooks. Senate Finance Committee members are discussing using money generated by any new carbon tax to provide a tax rebate to working class taxpayers — ensuring that a portion of those dollars flow directly back to the families who need them and those who are most likely to be most impacted by America’s energy transition. 

But that’s not all: A carbon price is also good for businesses and job creation. A proposed border-adjustment tax would ensure that foreign companies have to play by the same rules and don’t gain an unfair advantage over American businesses. And with carbon border adjustment mechanisms coming soon from our major trading partners Canada and the European Union, it only makes sense for the U.S. to implement a domestic carbon price, providing the consistency and certainty that businesses need to plan ahead and make smart, future-focused investments. Maybe that’s why several prominent business leaders have already endorsed the idea — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and the CEO Climate Dialogue.

By any measure, this is still a dire moment for our planet, our children, and our future. But the smart, ambitious policies being discussed by leaders on Capitol Hill would go a long way toward turning the tide. The American people know this. That’s why two-thirds of voters support the inclusion of a price on carbon pollution, according to a recent poll

After all, taking bold action to avert the worst impacts of climate change will require us to follow the science — but it’s not rocket science. We can do this, and Congress is heading in the right direction.

Mark Reynolds is the Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change.

Tags budget reconciliation Carbon tax Chuck Schumer Climate change emissions Joe Biden

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