For the past decade, Citizens Climate Lobby has been playing the "long game," slowly building grassroots support and bipartisan buy-in for a way to drive down carbon pollution and bring climate change under control.
Those efforts have paid off with a bill in Congress, HR763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. The bill may face long odds of passing anytime soon, but it provides some reassurance that members of Congress are finding common ground to talk about climate solutions. The bill has bipartisan support in the House, and sponsors are working with members of the Senate to do the same.
There have actually been four pieces of legislation introduced in Congress — all centered on the idea of taxing carbon pollution. We find the carbon fee and dividend proposal perhaps the most elegant because it's based on market principles and doesn't ask anyone to sacrifice their political values.
The idea is simple, though admittedly massive in scope. The bill would put a fee on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas at the moment they come out of the ground. The fee would start at $15 for every ton of carbon pollution and increase $10 per ton every year. Activities that are carbon-heavy will pay more of the fee in the form of higher rates for fuels.
Money collected from the fee would be returned to all Americans in the form of a monthly dividend — a check from the U.S. Treasury to offset the financial pain of paying more for goods and services under a carbon pricing plan.
The program wouldn't restrict carbon emissions — just provide market-force incentives to reduce them. CCL estimates this policy will reduce America's emissions by at least 40 percent in the first 12 years — an important outcome that will help keep carbon emissions from reaching a tipping point with regard to climate change.
Members of a CCL Western Slope chapter met with the editorial board Monday to underscore the bill's biggest selling point. It's revenue neutral, meaning it doesn't grow the size of government. It doesn't dictate which technologies win or how private citizens should conduct their lives. It puts money in people's pockets to spend as they see fit, but creates opportunities for innovation as businesses seek to reduce the amount of carbon produced by their products.
Recent demonstrations on climate change indicate people want their elected representatives do something "concrete," said CCL member Aaron Hoffman of Grand Junction. "This is pro-job, pro-economy and literally saves people's lives," Hoffman said.
Over the past decade, there's been a perceptible shift in attitudes regarding carbon pricing in Washington, D.C., CCL members told the board. Carbon fee and dividend has appeal to conservatives because it's not a "command and control" proposition.
Indeed, at a time when the Green New Deal and other onerous measures seek similar outcomes, from a partisan perspective, we like carbon fee and dividend because it doesn't involve new taxes or unfairly hammer (or favor) any one industry. Costs are shared, but more importantly, we pull our heads out of the sand and start constructively addressing climate change without adversely impacting the economy.
Time will tell if the gridlock in Washington will allow this to move forward this year, but in our view, it's a matter of when, not whether, we begin addressing this.