Momentum is growing to fight climate change by pricing carbon


As world leaders arrive at the United Nations Monday to reaffirm their countries’ plans to tackle climate change, they should take heart in the momentum gathering in the U.S. Congress to put a price on carbon that would exceed America’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement. 

Wait… what? Didn’t the president say he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris accord? How is it possible that any serious climate solution could be emerging in Washington?

The answer is fairly simple. Members of Congress are listening to constituents who want action on climate change, and the solution many have coalesced around is a market-based approach laid out in the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763). This bipartisan legislation, which puts a steadily rising fee on carbon and gives the revenue to the American people, already has 63 House members signed on, more than any carbon pricing bill ever garnered.

Support for this bill is bubbling up throughout the nation with more than 1,000 endorsements from prominent individuals, local governments, businesses, faith groups and nonprofits. This summer, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution that “strongly urges the United States Congress to pass legislation that imposes a price on carbon emissions sufficient enough to reduce carbon emissions in line with ambitions detailed in the Paris Agreement.” 

The Energy Innovation Act is attracting broad support inside and outside of Congress for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s effective. Resources for the Future estimates a 47 percent drop in net U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would occur by 2030 from this legislation. By comparison, the now-scrapped Clean Power Plan applied only to America’s power sector and would have resulted in just a 12 percent drop in net U.S. emissions — only a quarter of what the Energy Innovation Act would achieve. The bill targets 90 percent emissions reductions by 2050 and allows the price to accelerate faster if that goal is not on track.

Another reason for the bill’s support is that it’s good for people. With all the revenue allocated as equal payments to everyone, roughly two-thirds of households will receive as much or more money from the “carbon dividend” as they will pay for increased costs associated with the fee. 

After 10 years, the annual dividend for a family of four is expected to be about $3,500. That monthly dividend would make an especially big impact on low- and middle-income families, who could provide for better health care or start funds to pay for college education. The choice on how to spend the money, of course, is entirely up to each individual.

In order to gain passage, any climate legislation will need bipartisan support, and H.R. 763 already has a Republican cosponsor, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida. There’s reason to believe more GOP members will eventually follow his lead. Here’s why:

Polling shows two-thirds of young conservatives are concerned about climate change, a finding that has big implications for the future of the party. Over the summer, Republican pollster Frank Luntz distributed a memo to GOP congressional offices warning that the party risks losing voters over the climate issue.

More and more Americans are making the connection between extreme-weather catastrophes — hurricanes, floods, wildfires — and climate change. That translates into increasing numbers of people who are deeply concerned about climate change and want something done. A new poll from CBS News finds that two-thirds of Americans think climate change is a crisis or serious problem, and 56 percent think the problem must be dealt with now.

With pressure mounting from public opinion and young conservatives, there’s been a noticeable shift among Republicans in Congress about the acceptance of climate science and the need to reduce emissions. As voters demand action, a significant number of GOP members in Congress will eventually need to get behind an effective climate solution, “effective” being the operative word.

Left with a choice between more government regulations and spending or a carbon fee that lets the market do the heavy lifting, Republicans are likely to choose the latter, particularly if revenue from the carbon fee is given to households.

When it comes to solving climate change, Congress has kicked the can down the road for several decades. The problem is that we’re now running out of road, as the IPCC warns we have until 2030 to show significant progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Energy Innovation Act provides the sweet spot where Democrats and Republicans can come together. As more Americans demand that Congress work in a bipartisan fashion to solve climate change, come together they will. 

Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. 

Tags Carbon pricing Climate change Energy Energy innovation Act Francis Rooney Mark Reynolds

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