Congress should consider nationwide, voluntary reporting

A small group of legislators filed a bipartisan bill for a tax on carbon aimed at tackling climate change during this lame duck session. The legislation is purely symbolic, but it reflects the fact that climate change is on Americans’ minds, in part due to a recent report by  U.S. Federal Agencies.

However, over the past two years, two different carbon tax proposals have failed in the green bastion of Washington state. In France, the climate change fuel tax increase has driven people to the streets in protest. People care about climate change, but they don’t want to pay higher taxes and politicians are loathe to create a complex new tax structure. Energy economists know that if the tax is too high, a rapid shift in the energy market could displace workers and shock the economy. What can we do to balance these concerns?

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If we are committed to reducing emissions, the federal government can support state and private sector led movement by through a single, national voluntary tracking systems.

A voluntary federal framework for carbon reporting and offset exchange would increase transparency and accountability in the carbon space and is an actionable solution to the growing concerns over carbon emissions.

In short, it will help make sense of what states and businesses are already doing. To date, over 383 cities and municipalities have joined together as The Climate Mayors to reduce their own emissions. Additionally, more than 2,500 mayors, governors, CEOs, college presidents, faith organizations, and tribal leaders have moved to similarly track and reduce emissions.

Any reporting costs money. But you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and sound management often leads to cost savings. That’s why companies and organizations are measuring emissions and finding cost savings through energy efficiency. They’re also finding that long-term steps to reduce emissions are the right financial decision too since the cost of clean energy is lower than ever before.

By focusing on transparency and accountability in the carbon space, individuals and investors are empowered to reward climate leadership so the market drives development of cleaner energy solutions — an approach new polling shows is popular. Imagine a voluntary approach analogous to USDA PRIME certified beef or Energy Star electronics, but for carbon. And like these other approaches, the program has a much better chance of being enacted because it is voluntary.

This is an achievable goal that will bring us closer to solving the challenges brought about by a changing climate.

A voluntary federal framework for carbon will allow the invisible hand of free markets to drive down emissions and mitigate our changing climate. In doing so, our lawmakers will empower business leaders instead of restricting them and complement existing state carbon emissions control programs, not supersede them.

In short, the federal government won’t dictate how carbon emissions will be reduced, but by focusing on transparency and accountability, establish a powerful, new system that will set up a race to the top for environmental responsibility and increased economic performance.

Combined with other proposals to establish an innovation tax credit and tax exemptions for investment in clean assets we can bring online new clean energy technologies and ultimately assure that a new era of clean capitalism helps us meet global climate change goals.

Charles Hernick is the director of policy and advocacy at Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) Forum, a nonpartisan, nonprofit  organization committed to educating the public and influencing the national conversation about clean energy. Benjamin Backer is the President & Founder of The American Conservation Coalition (ACC) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and empowering conservatives to re-engage on environmental conversations.