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Bipartisan Legislation Would Put a Price on Carbon

A bill introduced in Congress yesterday could help cut U.S. carbon pollution by 40% in 10 years.

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On the heels of the release last week of a Trump administration report that paints a grim picture of climate change, a bipartisan group of congressmen yesterday introduced legislation to put a price on carbon.

The bill, known as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, would price commercial emissions of carbon from fossil fuels at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions in calendar year 2019 and increase the price by $10 per metric ton per year in an effort to reduce carbon pollution. The bill also would impose fees for imported carbon-intensive products such as steel, aluminum, paper, and chemicals.

The bill also calls for the establishment of a Carbon Dividend Trust Fund, with 100% of the net revenue of the collected carbon fees going back to American citizens and legal residents. A provision of the bill would decommission the carbon fee when emission reduction goals are met.

The goal of the legislation is to “encourage market-driven innovation of clean energy technologies and market efficiencies which will reduce harmful pollution and leave a healthier, more stable, and more prosperous nation for future generations,” according to the bill’s language.

“It’s Time to Put on the Brakes”

Climate change “is a complex, difficult challenge, but we cannot be the generation that allows it to become a runaway train. It’s time to put on the brakes,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said at a briefing Tuesday night. Deutch is a sponsor of the legislation along with Reps. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), John K. Delaney (D-Md.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and Francis Rooney (R-Fla.).

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida), center, and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Florida), left, discuss new legislation that would put a price on carbon.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida; center) and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Florida; right) discuss new legislation, which would put a price on carbon, at a briefing outside the U.S. Capitol Building this morning. The briefing was a follow-on to another conducted on Tuesday evening. Credit: Office of Congressman Ted Deutch

“Even if you don’t take the word of experts and scientists, then take the word of the president’s own administration, which reported last week that the consequences of [climate] inaction are dire,” Deutch said, referring to the fourth edition of the National Climate Assessment, which was developed by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

“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 risk to our health, our environment, and our economy and that puts a price on pollution to end our reliance on carbon,” Deutch said. The bill would help to reduce U.S. carbon pollution by 40% in 10 years with a goal of a 91% reduction by 2050, according to documents released by Deutch’s office.

Deutch acknowledged, however, that “this bill won’t solve all of our problems.” He said that he looks forward to working with Democrats and Republicans on other measures as well, such as encouraging research and development and renewable energy options. Such work, he continued, will start on day one of the new congressional session, which begins in January.

The Need for Bipartisan Support

A ballot initiative to establish the nation’s first statewide fee on carbon emissions in Washington State fell short at the polls earlier this month. The revenue from that fee would have gone to funds to protect the environment, among other purposes. However, “ballot initiatives are not the best way to enact major policies, particularly with an issue as nuanced and complicated as carbon pricing,” Steve Valk, spokesman for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, told Eos. The lobby is a grassroots advocacy organization based in Coronado, Calif., that supports the legislation and focuses on national policies to address climate change.

“Most voters only know what they see and hear in a 30-second TV commercial, and with oil and gas industries vastly outspending supporters of the [Washington] initiative, that pretty much sealed its fate,” Valk said. He added that whether you’re working at the state level or the national level, “you need a policy that can garner bipartisan support.”

The new fee and dividend approach, Valk continued, “can get that support from both sides of the aisle, especially when you couple that with strong grassroots engagement of legislators.”

Putting Momentum Behind the Legislation

Valk said that it is useful to introduce the legislation now, even in the waning days of the current 115th Congress. “As far as we’re concerned, the 116th Congress has already started, and people are laying out the agenda for next year. By introducing [the bill] now, we’re getting the ball rolling and putting some momentum behind this policy heading into the new Congress,” he said.

“We have 100,000 supporters out there in nearly every district, and it’s a tremendous boost to their efforts to be able to point to a bill that they want their members of Congress to get behind,” Valk continued. “In other words, this just got real.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2018), Bipartisan legislation would put a price on carbon, Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO110849. Published on 28 November 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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