As our planet neared the end of the hottest month ever recorded, several carbon-tax bills landed in the hopper on Capitol Hill.
The push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions comes as both Democrats and Republicans face pressure from their constituents, and in some cases the fossil fuel industry itself, to regulate carbon emissions that lead to climate change. The influx of legislation is surprising some observers who have long called for action on climate change, wrote The Hill’s Miranda Green. “They say they wouldn't have believed a year ago that there would have been such a push.”
Young Republicans’ concern about the climate is one impetus for action. Kiera O'Brien, former president of the Harvard Republican Club and now vice president of Students for Carbon Dividends, testified, “[L]ike me, so many of my peers on both sides of the aisle are exhausted by the partisan bickering, the divisive entrenchment, and staunch unwillingness to compromise.” Appearing July 25 before the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, she said, “The climate does not care who has scored the latest partisan shot. Neither does the economy, nor do the people whose lives have been and will be upended by climate uncertainty and instability.”
The “obvious, no-brainer tool for curbing carbon emissions,” wrote columnist Catherine Rampell, is “putting a price on carbon. A carbon tax (or its cousin, a cap-and-trade system) is almost universally embraced by economists on both the left and the right. With good reason, too. Taxing carbon means pricing in, upfront, the implicit costs that come from using fossil fuels — especially, though not exclusively, the cost of warming our planet.”
Republican Congressman Francis Rooney (FL) recently introduced a bill that would place a tax of $30 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent on fossil fuel producers and large industrial emitters. An automatic $2 per ton increase will occur every two years if emissions reduction goals are not met. Modeling by Resources for the Future suggests the tax would reduce energy-related carbon pollution by approximately 42 percent by 2030 against 2005 levels.
Other recent bills came from 1) Democratic Senators Chris Coons (DE) and Dianne Feinstein (CA); 2) Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA); 3) Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL); and 4) Rep. John Larson (D-CT). Coming soon, reportedly, is a measure from Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
These bills follow four offered earlier this year: 1) H.R. 763 [Rooney and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL)]; 2) H.R. 1960 [Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA)], 3) S. 940 [Sen. Chris VanHollen (D-MD)], and 4) S. 1128 [Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)].
The measures differ in the initial fee, the rate of increase, the use of the resulting revenue stream, and in other ways. But all of them would use the free market to drive down greenhouse gases by putting a more honest price on carbon emissions.
“Even the least aggressive price path would significantly reduce U.S. emissions beyond the Paris agreement targets,” wrote Marc Hafstead of Resources for the Future. “In the current political climate, it is unlikely that any of these bills will become law. But the discussion they raise will hopefully help future policymakers find common ground and perhaps set the stage for future bipartisan action that confronts the climate challenge.”
“Given the unprecedented level of movement in Congress surrounding carbon tax legislation,” wrote Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy,” the Center’s Carbon Tax Research Initiative has produced an online guide: “What You Need to Know About a Federal Carbon Tax in the United States.” It provides a high-level overview of carbon-pricing basics, the major decisions that policymakers confront when designing a carbon tax, the implications of those decisions, and the proposals in Congress today. In addition, Jason Ye of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has analyzed such legislation.
Another glimmer of hope on Capitol Hill came via the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Before Congress left for its August recess, the panel passed--unanimously--a five-year highway bill that contains a first-of-its-kind title dedicated to addressing climate change. It proposes raising spending levels by 27 percent in part to pay for $10 billion in climate-focused programs and policies. The measure would provide $4.9 billion over five years to help states improve the resiliency of their infrastructure to natural disasters and extreme weather.
Americans who believe that we need national action to counter the climate challenge should encourage their senators and representatives to support the bills that would put a price on carbon.