Energy & Environment

Bipartisan group of lawmakers propose landmark carbon tax

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers is introducing a landmark bill that would charge fossil fuel companies a tax for their carbon dioxide emissions.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, announced by two Republicans and three Democratic members of the House on Tuesday, would charge $15 for each ton of carbon emitted into the air and would increase that fee by $10 every year afterward, in an effort to fight climate change. Other than administrative costs, all of the money would go back to taxpayers.
{mosads}Supporters say the bill would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent in 10 years, and 91 percent by 2050. That’s a bigger cut than former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan or the United States’ commitment under the Paris climate agreement — a pact President Trump has promised to exit.
Introduced weeks before Congress ends for the year, the legislation is unlikely to get serious House consideration in this session. But with Democrats ready to take control of the House in January, the bill is poised for potential future consideration and will likely be a major marker of where lawmakers from both parties can agree on tackling climate change.
The bill is the first bipartisan piece of legislation to be introduced to put a price on carbon in a decade. Its sponsors are Reps. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), John Delaney (D-Md.) and Charlie Crist (D-Fla.).
“If we don’t act now, we are nearing a point of no return when it comes to the environment, when it comes to our health and when it comes to our economy,” Deutch, the lead Democratic sponsor, told reporters Tuesday.
He said the proposal “is the product of rigorous negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, liberal groups and conservative groups, environmentalists and business interests.”
Crist told reporters at a press conference Wednesday that the measure was imperative.
“Congress must act, the urgency of this crisis demands it,” Crist said.
The carbon tax proposal faces a number of headwinds. Washington state voters just this month rejected a state carbon tax proposal, and Trump is openly hostile to climate science, telling The Washington Post on Tuesday “I don’t see” man-made climate change.
Similar to the Washington measure, the bill would charge companies when they produce or import fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, based on their expected greenhouse gas emissions.
But instead of using the money to pay for health or community projects, the new bill would distribute it to the public. Its backers say those “dividends” would offset the increased costs from the carbon tax, like higher utility and gasoline bills, for about 70 percent of households.
Dividend funds would be handed out by the Treasury Department under the bill, based on the number of people in a household.
“It’s transparent and easily trackable. You know where the money is going. It protects the American family so that families are not adversely impacted. Dividends would protect most families from cost increases,” Ben Pendergrass, senior director of government affairs at Citizens’ Climate Lobby, told The Hill.
“The market signals should still be there to guide things like fuel efficient cars and dividends protect people who can’t make that transition immediately.”
The bill would also prohibit the federal government from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from the sectors that are taxed, unless the taxes aren’t effective after 10 years. That is an effort to attract support from Republicans, who are nearly united in opposition to Environmental Protection Agency climate regulations.
Rooney focused on the economic benefits of the bill, saying in a statement Wednesday that the revenue carbon neutral fee is good policy and a way “to support emerging alternate sources of energy.”
The legislation is similar in some respects to Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s (R-Fla.) Market Choice Act, which he introduced earlier this year. But only Republicans back that bill, and Curbelo lost reelection this month and will exit the House at the end of the year.
This latest bill comes within days of two climate reports released by the Trump administration and the United Nations that each warned of the measurable effects of climate change and the likely devastating impacts to humans.
An annual U.N. report released Tuesday signaled that countries were not doing enough to meet their goals of keeping global temperatures from rising to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. At the current rate, the report found, the global temperature is expected to reach 3.2 degrees above the level by 2100. 
A carbon tax could be one likely fix to that, with a forecast emissions cut of 91 percent by 2050.
“With the introduction of this bill, we are taking a monumental step forward in showing our colleagues and the country that there is a bipartisan solution to climate change that addresses the risks to our health, to the environment and to our economy,” Deutch said.
Three of the bill’s co-sponsors represent Florida, a state that scientists say is likely to be one of the first in the U.S. to witness the brunt of warming temperatures due to rising sea levels and intensifying storm systems. Climate change was a topic that creeped into the state’s midterm elections this year, as residents on the Gulf Coast are looking for solutions to a toxic algae bloom and red tide crisis. Both are tied to warming waters.
Ted Halstead, who leads the Climate Leadership Council, applauded the new legislation. His group is pushing another proposal to tax carbon dioxide emissions and to return the money to taxpayers, an effort backed by former Republican political leaders including former Treasury Secretary James Baker and former Secretary of State George Schultz.
Halstead said in a statement that the bill “provides a clear proof of concept that a conservative-inspired carbon dividends framework can attract bipartisan support.”
“While there are important policy differences between this legislation and the Climate Leadership Council’s Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan, we commend the representatives introducing this legislation as well as the Citizens’ Climate Lobby for their leadership to set the stage for a bipartisan climate solution.”
Some environmental groups applauded the bill too.
“This is the kind of smart, bipartisan proposal on climate change that we urgently need,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute.
But other groups were critical, saying that a carbon tax cannot get the dramatic reductions necessary to fight climate change.
“Carbon pricing schemes like this one are false solutions to climate change, and they provide a dangerous distraction from the bold policies required to avoid the worst effects of climate chaos in decades to come,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, said in a statement.
“This carbon tax bill amounts to climate denial, not climate action.”
This story has been updated.
Tags Brian Fitzpatrick Carlos Curbelo Charlie Crist Donald Trump Francis Rooney John Delaney Ted Deutch

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