Congress must act on climate as Trump abdicates responsibility
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Greetings Congress,

You’ll be getting a visit today from 1,000 of your constituents who have traveled to Washington from across the nation. They come because they’re worried we won’t have a habitable planet if we don’t reduce the heat-trapping gases that are inexorably warming our air, oceans and land. 

They won’t be marching up Constitution Avenue beating drums, waving signs and chanting clever couplets. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Protests are a great way to get people’s attention, but at some point we have to move from getting attention to having a conversation.

Instead, the people visiting you today will be wearing suits and business attire, arriving at your offices for scheduled appointments, just like the folks who pop in from K Street. The only difference is that they’re not getting paid to talk to you. Their compensation, hopefully, is a livable world.

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The volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby have been coming to D.C. in ever-increasing numbers since 2010, when just 25 of us lobbied on the Hill. This year’s meetings carry a heightened sense of urgency, because the United States, the second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, appears to be moving from leader to laggard when it comes to addressing climate change.

 

Under the previous administration, steps were taken through regulatory means to reduce carbon pollution — the Clean Power Plan to cut CO2 emissions at power plants and standards to improve fuel efficiency in vehicles. Our nation also played a pivotal role in forging the historic Paris climate agreement, in which nearly 200 nations committed to emissions reductions with the aim of containing global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

For the past six months, however, that progress has been reversed, with the current administration taking steps to dismantle the Clean Power Plan and President Trump announcing our withdrawal from the Paris accord.

With the White House abdicating any responsibility to reduce the risks of climate change, it’s time for Congress to set aside partisan bickering and, for the good of our nation and the world, enact a market-based solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

An approach that can find common ground between Republicans and Democrats is “carbon fee and dividend,” whereby a steadily rising fee is placed on fossil fuels, with the revenue returned to consumers. The fee sends a powerful price signal to the marketplace to speed up the already-happening transition to a clean-energy economy. Returning revenue to households will shield families from the impact of rising energy costs associated with the fee. To protect American businesses, a border adjustment tariff would be applied to imports from nations that do not have an equivalent price on carbon, providing a strong incentive for countries to follow our lead with a similar policy.

study released in 2014 dispels the myth that pricing carbon will kill jobs. Regional Economic Models found that, after 20 years, carbon fee and dividend would reduce emissions 50 percent while adding 2.8 million jobs to the economy. 

This policy finds strong support from conservative groups like the Climate Leadership Council, headed by former secretaries of state George Shultz and James Baker, as well as the libertarian think tank Niskanen Center.

For those who despair that the partisan divide in Congress on climate change will never be bridged, there are encouraging signs of progress. The bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, formed in February 2016, has tripled in size since the start of the 115th Congress and now has 42 members — 21 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Its GOP co-chair, Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, has emerged as an influential and persuasive leader who is moving the caucus to develop legislative solutions.

When our volunteers meet with you today, what you can expect is constituents and concerned citizens who appreciate that your job is not easy, that it is nearly impossible to please all the people you represent on any particular issue. They will actually thank you for something you’ve done and initiate a dialogue based on mutual respect, a conversation where they listen as much as they speak. 

They will also come bearing this promise: If you are willing to step up and lead on climate change, they will do everything in their power to back you up in your district and state by enlisting support from community leaders and newspapers back home.

Above all, the people you meet with today reject the cynicism and despair that many Americans feel toward their government, and they truly believe that you are our best hope for preserving a livable world for future generations.

Mark Reynolds is executive director of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a non-partisan advocacy organization working on climate solutions.


The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.