By Roger Parkinson
Florida will be this nation's No. 1 victim of climate change.
Water is already pooling in streets of cities like Coral Gables and Miami Beach. We can expect that problem to spread, and scientists tell us that Florida also can look forward to higher temperatures, beach erosion, saltwater in the Biscayne Aquifer, greater risk of health problems such as the Zika virus, stronger hurricanes, and weather extremes of all kinds.
What is the quickest, least expensive, and most efficient response to this threat? By an overwhelming majority, economists say that we need to put a price on carbon. That would drive down emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary cause of climate change.
Congress, however, hasn't taken this advice and remains a bystander on this problem. In fact, many lawmakers don't think there is a problem. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency has created the Clean Power Plan to address the emissions created by electricity generation.
Unfortunately, those add up to only a third of greenhouse gases. We will never meet the goal we agreed to at the Paris conference six months ago, let alone hit the lofty aspiration of keeping warming under 2 degrees Celsius.
But even that partial solution is running into strong headwinds. EPA's plan has been challenged by coal companies, half the states (including Florida), trade associations and scores of lawmakers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit will hold a September hearing on the plan.
How can we break the gridlock on finding a solution to climate change? We need a creative compromise that will lead Congress to adopt a carbon fee. Such a fee has many advantages.
First, it would give Americans and every company doing business in this country a clear incentive to reduce consumption of coal, oil, and the rest of the fossil fuels that are increasing global warming. Clean energy sources such as solar and wind power would become even more attractive.
Second, a carbon fee of $35 per ton would generate more than $150 billion per year, half of which could be used to reduce the corporate income tax, now the highest in the industrialized world (35 percent) to 25 percent. The other half could be used to reimburse low- and lower-middle-income earners for slightly higher energy costs. The net is a boost to GDP growth.
Third, carbon fees work. British Columbia has had one since 2008. The tax has reduced fossil fuel consumption by 9 percent, while use in the rest of that country has risen.
Meantime, British Columbia's GDP growth has outperformed Canada's. Recently Alberta, which accounts for more than 80 percent of Canada's oil production, has adopted a $30 carbon tax.
Fourth, a revenue-neutral carbon fee would enable our country to meet the Paris pledge and would put us in a position to contribute our full share to the carbon dioxide reduction needed to keep the temperature rise below two degrees.
Fifth, a revenue-neutral carbon fee would be much simpler and easier to implement than a cap-and-trade system or the Clean Power Plan. In fact, it would greatly reduce — or eliminate — the need to use EPA regulations at all. Such regulations could change constantly, thus creating uncertainty that would inhibit business investment. A carbon fee is a market solution, not a regulatory solution.
Could such a fee pass Congress? I think so, and here's why. Recently I sat down with 10 members of Congress or their aides to explain why I believe this is the smartest idea out there.
I was accompanied by representatives of the Partnership for Responsible Growth. This nonprofit began work last year to promote adoption of a carbon fee that would not only counter climate change but would promote growth via tax reform. This group has now conducted more than 200 such visits, mostly with Republicans. The bottom line: A sizable majority of these members of Congress are open to this creative compromise, as long as business and opinion leaders back home are on board.
There are signs public opinion is moving in this direction. A survey by three GOP pollsters in September showed 54 percent of conservative Republicans would support a carbon fee if proceeds were rebated.
I hope Floridians will urge their representatives in Congress to support this promising, practical idea, and I am eager to hear from all those campaigning to succeed retiring Congressman Curt Clawson what they plan to do about climate change.
--Parkinson is on the Advisory Board of the Partnership for Responsible Growth and has served as president of the World Association of Newspapers.