By AARON HOFFMAN and MARK REYNOLDS

When President Joe Biden joined world leaders in Glasgow for the UN’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP), the U.S. had high hopes of leading on climate change.

Indeed, just days prior to the summit, Biden unveiled a framework for his Build Back Better budget reconciliation package, proposing billions of dollars of climate-focused investments: clean energy tax credits, renewable energy development and more.

Here in the Grand Valley, we are encouraged to see the president’s attention on climate because we are already seeing the impacts in our community. According to the Washington Post, we have already surpassed the 2°C warming limit that the rest of the world is trying to avoid, are in the midst of a 20-year megadrought and have suffered from unhealthy air quality over the last several summers as smoke from local and out-of-state wildfires settles into the valley. This isn’t a result of normal climatic fluctuation or part of a cycle, it’s a human-caused phenomenon, and it’s time for our elected leaders to act with urgency.

As we await concrete action, the president’s promise to reduce U.S. emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 must be kept.

Right now, Biden’s package falls short. The policies outlined in his framework can deliver roughly 40% reductions below 2005 levels, leaving a deficit that must be addressed.

Lawmakers assume additional emission cuts could come from regulation, but now that safety net looks weak. The Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on the EPA’s authority to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. A ruling against EPA authority would take that tool out of the president’s hands.

In order to ensure our climate goals stay on track, the Senate should include a robust fee on carbon pollution in the final reconciliation bill.

This fee could be collected at the source of the carbon emissions, ensuring that polluters pay for the greenhouse gases they add to our atmosphere and are incentivized to innovate to avoid the fee.

In addition to almost universal support from economists, it’s a solution that has bipartisan support. In addition to support from Senator Romney (R-UT), 25 Utah Republican state legislators recently signed an op-ed in the Deseret News supporting carbon pricing. Speaking at COP26, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said there was almost universal support among Democrats for carbon pricing as part of reconciliation.

“We have 49 out of 50 votes,” Whitehouse told Bloomberg Green. “The House has assured us they will also pass it, and the White House has assured us the president will sign it into law.” In the same article, our own Senator (Michael) Bennet said “A price on carbon is clearly where we need to head. One of the great virtues of that is you can use the proceeds of that to help with this transition.”

Such policy would bring a trifecta of positive results. First, a carbon fee would ensure Biden’s emissions commitment is met. Modeling from Resources for the Future shows that a carbon fee alone could deliver 45% emissions reductions by 2030.

Second, the money from the fee could be given back to hardworking American families as a monthly “carbon cash back” check to spend as they see fit. This would protect low- and middle-income Americans who otherwise might not be able to afford the transition. A consumer gasoline exemption is being considered to protect consumers from increased gas prices and a portion of the revenue may be used to help coal communities with the energy transition.

Finally, a carbon fee allows us to be globally competitive. If we fail to enact such a policy, the U.S. could lose out to international players such as Canada and the European Union, who have their own carbon prices and will use a carbon border adjustment to charge international exporters from countries yet to implement a similar policy. Our own carbon border adjustment would enable us to hold countries like China accountable for producing goods that undercut American prices, because those products are made with higher carbon emissions than American goods.

With Congress on the verge of finalizing legislation that could pull us from the brink of catastrophic global warming, it is vital that Sens. Bennet and (John) Hickenlooper meet the moment. We urge them to include a carbon fee and dividend in the reconciliation bill.

Just a few days ago, President Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure framework bill, showing that Congress can reach agreement on the major challenges facing our country. This bill includes more than $150 billion in funding earmarked for a transition to clean energy, green jobs and climate resilience — all important components that will benefit the Western Slope as the U.S. steps up to adequately address global warming. Here in Grand Junction, we appreciate Senator Bennet and Senator Hickenlooper for their supportive votes on this important legislation.

But we must do more. If we fail to enact comprehensive policy to meet our emission reduction targets, we risk losing our standing on the international stage. Much worse, we risk continuing a trajectory of unchecked global warming.

By implementing a robust fee on pollution, we can bring down emissions rapidly and show the world we are serious when it comes to solving climate change.

Aaron Hoffman volunteers with the Grand Junction/Grand Valley chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.