A Carbon Fee Can Help Fund Infrastructure Improvements

Desperate to put legislative points on the scoreboard by year’s end, congressional leaders have decided to enact a tax overhaul that loads another $1.0-1.5 trillion on an already spiraling national debt. So the initial opportunity for a debate about how carbon revenue could supply that new revenue appears to have passed.

The next opportunity to promote a carbon fee could be a bill to invest in the nation’s ailing infrastructure. No one doubts the need to make such investments. The U.S. currently has a D+ on the American Society of Civil Engineers’ infrastructure report card, and ASCE estimates that all levels of government will have to invest an additional $2 trillion over the next decade if we’re going to avoid falling further behind. The ASCE grades infrastructure in 16 interconnected categories, including the energy grid and our water systems. All are vitally important if our economy is to remain healthy and if we are to compete with other nations.

Bike Rider/Scientist Learns How to Talk About Climate

“I found that the word ‘climate’ has been defined as a political issue. It was always a science issue for me,” retired climate scientist David Goodrich told The Christian Science Monitor’s Amanda Paulson. “You can talk about the latest drought that’s going on, or the big heavy rains we’ve been having, and on the coast you can talk about, ‘Boy, there’s been a lot of flooding.’ But if you say, ‘Isn’t that climate change?’ or ‘Isn’t that sea level rise?,’ there’s this wall that goes up.”

Goodrich was discussing his 4,208-mile cross-country bike trip, one of the half-dozen epic bike rides he has undertaken since 2000. His experiences are the raw material for his recently published book A Hole in the Wind (Pegasus, 249 pages).

A former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist who served as  director of the UN Global Climate Observing System in Geneva, Goodrich returned to the United States in 2011 to find a nation and a people in denial, according to a Goodreads review. Concerned that Americans are willfully deluded by misinformation about climate that dominates media and politics, Goodrich thought a little straight talk could set things right. As they say in "Animal House," he decided that "this calls for a stupid and futile gesture on someone's part, and I'm just the guy to do it."

Fires & Storms: Running Up a Big Bill

It’s been quite a year. Consider this lineup: Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, and Ophelia. Thanks to those hurricanes, 2017 has become the first year in more than a century in which 10 Atlantic storms in a row reached hurricane strength.

The record for the most weather-related disasters doing more than $1 billion in damage is 15, set last year. So far, 2017 has had 12, most recently the California wildfires. As of late October, the toll for those fires, some of which were still burning, was: 42 people dead, 8,400 homes destroyed, and 271,000 acres burned.

Hurricane Katrina still reigns as the U.S. weather-related disaster with the highest price tag: $160 billion. Hurricane Harvey ranks second ($86 to $108 billion), followed by Hurricane Irma ($64 to $92 billion), according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Despite all those eye-opening figures, many politicians continue to insist that taking steps to counter climate change would threaten our economic health. A more plausible view is that failure to take action will devastate our economy and impoverish our children.

Business Community is Key to Carbon Fee

If enough of the business community speaks up in favor of a carbon fee, it will become the law of the land. That’s the number-one message we heard during two years of meetings with some 300 senators, House members, and congressional aides. Most of them were open to this solution to climate change, but they need to see evidence that business leaders “back home” are on the same page.

Can we mobilize those leaders? The latest encouraging sign came last week from Business Forward, a group of small business owners, executives, entrepreneurs, and investors from across the United States. This trade association held a series of briefings with CEOs and economists from across the ideological spectrum to examine specific tax proposals and their potential impact on business. The conclusion: Many business leaders agree that pricing carbon is a simple, fair, and market-based solution. It decreases the need for federal regulation and can reduce emissions more quickly and equitably.

Lindsey Graham Backs Carbon Fee

The drive to enact a carbon royalty (or fee) received an important boost last week. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham became the first Republican in the Senate to publicly endorse a "price on carbon” to fight climate change.

"I'm a Republican. I believe that the greenhouse effect is real, that CO2 emissions generated by man is creating our greenhouse gas effect that traps heat, and the planet is warming," said Graham. "A price on carbon—that's the way to go in my view."

He said that he is working with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI) on legislation. Whitehouse and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced a carbon tax bill in July, appearing at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to announce it. Graham, who said he would take the idea to the White House for consideration, called for climate change legislation during the 2016 election but did not mention a price on carbon explicitly.

From our meetings with scores of senators and their aides over the past three years, we know that a number of them privately support this free-market idea or are at least open to it. We will try to persuade them to join Graham in speaking out publicly.