The Handiwork of Hurricane Patricia

If you lived in Corsicana, 60 miles south of Dallas, you had 21 inches of rain Saturday, October 24. That’s what Chicago gets in seven months. In San Antonio high water swept a man through a drainage tunnel and into a lake, where he was rescued.

That was the handiwork of Hurricane Patricia. It could have been worse; at one point Patricia had record 200-mph winds.

The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney wrote: “Scientists will never attribute one single event to climate change or say that it was caused by a warming planet; and with this event as with all weather events there are multiple causes, most prominently El Niño. Nonetheless, we can say this: Record-setting hurricanes like Patricia are consistent with one major prediction that climate researchers have made for some time about the consequences of a warming world.”

The economic toll of all this wacky weather is growing. Yet we still have too many politicians saying that we can’t afford to cut back on our use of carbon. Maybe they need to have their houses flooded or their businesses shut down for a week.

Congress must find a way to become part of the solution. But if long-lasting droughts, raging forest fires, beach erosion, and record-breaking hurricanes don’t put Congress in motion, what will?

Well, for years Republicans (and some Democrats) have been clamoring for a reduction in the corporate tax rate. That’s not such a bad idea; right now, at 35 percent, our rate is the highest among industrialized countries. So you could counter climate change by creating a carbon fee, and use half of the proceeds to knock the rate down to 25 percent.

Since a carbon fee would bump up the price of gasoline (about 28 cents per gallon if the fee were $30), the other half of the proceeds could go to low- and middle-income consumers as reimbursement. According to a September survey by three GOP pollsters, 54 percent of conservative Republicans would support a carbon tax if the money were rebated.

To encourage our trading partners to price carbon and to make sure that U.S. companies would not be at a disadvantage, our system would impose a WTO-compliant border tax adjustment on imports and include a credit for energy-intensive exports.

A carbon fee works. British Columbia has had one since 2008. It has reduced fossil fuel consumption by 16 percent, while use in the rest of that country has risen by 3 percent. Meantime, British Columbia’s GDP growth has outperformed Canada’s.

We need something creative to break through the partisan gridlock in Congress. President Obama’s ambitious Clean Power Plan has initiated an intense fight that will play out in legislatures and courtrooms for a number of years, thus delaying action. Half the states went to federal court to block the plan the very day it was published, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to dismantle it.

We have held more than 175 meetings on Capitol Hill, focusing on House and Senate members who serve on the five committees that have jurisdiction over tax, environmental, and energy matters. We found receptiveness to our carbon fee idea, provided there is sufficient support from businesses back home. The most logical time for action would be in 2017, once the debate has had time to progress and a new president and Congress have taken their oaths.

This market-based response to climate change would foster economic growth, create jobs, end the long-standing deadlock over tax reform, and replace an expensive and unpredictable regulatory mechanism with a cheaper, faster, more predictable, and more effective solution.

The global effort to counter climate change is unlikely to succeed without U.S. leadership, and by pricing carbon we would be providing a major impetus to an approach that could be implemented around the world.