Pricing carbon: A solution whose time has finally come

Pricing carbon: A solution whose time has finally come
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Momentum is building in Congress behind legislation that places an effective price on carbon, the solution thousands of economists agree is the best first step to rein in the heat-trapping emissions causing climate change.

Polling shows a significant increase in the number of Americans who are concerned about climate change and want Congress to act. Also, a survey from a Republican pollster shows 2-1 support among Republicans for a carbon-fee-and-dividend policy. Responding to the shift in public opinion, some congressional Republicans are changing their rhetoric on climate change and saying it's a problem that needs to be solved. The public conversation driven by the Green New Deal is also pressuring Republicans to come up with their own solutions to climate change.

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A strong carbon-pricing bill with bipartisan appeal — the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act — has been introduced in the House with a Republican cosponsor and is picking up more cosponsors every week. About 1,500 "citizen lobbyists" from every state in the nation swarmed Capitol Hill on Tuesday, employing their approach of respectful engagement to build more bipartisan support for this groundbreaking legislation.

Republicans are back at the table on climate change, and their solution of choice is innovation, which translates into more funding for research and development or tax incentives to come up with technological breakthroughs. All well and good, but that doesn’t address the problem of deploying those innovations fast enough to reduce emissions in a short period of time, which scientists are telling us is roughly 12 years. In fact, we already have the tools necessary to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. The only thing lacking is a big incentive — like a robust price on carbon — to quickly deploy those tools.

Being averse to mandates and more regulations, the best option for Republicans is a market-based solution — a fee on carbon with provisions that ensure such a fee will actually benefit Americans and the economy, be good for businesses, and keep the government from getting any bigger. The Energy Innovation Act (H.R. 763) checks off all those boxes.

Led by Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence House panel advances anti-gun violence legislation Gun debate to shape 2020 races MORE (D-Fla.) with Rep. Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyOvernight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House approves two bills to block Trump drilling This week: Congress returns for first time since mass shootings MORE (R-Fla.), the Energy Innovation Act was introduced in January and would assess a fee on the carbon dioxide that a fuel emits when burned. The fee starts at $15 per ton and increases $10 a ton each year. To protect Americans from any economic impact, all revenue from the fee will be deposited in a trust fund and distributed as equal shares to every household. This makes the policy revenue-neutral, meaning it will not increase the size of government. A study determined this “dividend” will provide a stimulus that adds 2.1 million jobs in the first 10 years.

The bill also provides a border carbon adjustment on imports from nations that do not have an equivalent price on carbon, thereby maintaining a level playing field for American businesses and discouraging companies from moving jobs overseas.

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One more provision, which Republicans should appreciate, is a pause on new regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions, since the carbon fee is expected to achieve better reductions than regulations proposed in the Clean Power Plan. Regulations can be reinstated if the desired emissions reductions are not achieved. Rules covering other pollutants such as mercury, sulfur dioxide and small particulates would not be affected. Regulations for fuel efficiency would also remain intact.

The Energy Innovation Act is expected to achieve at least 40 percent emissions reductions in the first 12 years, exceeding the U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement. Reductions of 90 percent are targeted by 2050.

Why does this legislation have a better chance of passage than all the other climate bills that have died in previous Congresses? Because constituents throughout the nation have effectively lobbied nearly every member of Congress and built support in their districts from the ground up. This bill is the culmination of a 10-year effort by the volunteers of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, an organization that has grown from a dozen to 425 chapters in the last decade. With a commitment to respectful engagement and bipartisanship, these advocates are welcome in all congressional offices, and we anticipate more House members will join the more than 40 cosponsors of this bill after their visits to the Hill on Tuesday.

Other solutions will be needed to ensure we do not breach the warming point of no return, but a robust price on carbon is the first step we must take to keep climate change from spiraling out of control.

It's time to make climate change a bridge issue rather than the wedge issue currently dividing Republicans and Democrats. The Energy Innovation Act is the bridge that can unite our nation to take the first meaningful step toward preserving a livable climate.

Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.