Advocates for reducing carbon emissions through a fee on fossil fuels are encouraged that bipartisan legislation supporting that approach has been introduced in Congress this year.
The legislation, which seeks to address climate change, would impose fees on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Revenues from the fees would be allocated to American citizens in monthly dividend payments to spend as they see fit, said Steve Ghan, a volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL).
Ghan provided an update on the carbon fee and dividend legislation during a recent visit to the Methow Valley. He met with a small group of local residents at the Methow Valley Citizens Council office in Twisp.
CCL is a nonprofit advocacy organization that has lobbied for several years for legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A bill introduced in January in the U.S. House of Representatives sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent within 12 years, and by 90 percent by 2050. A similar bill was introduced in Congress last year.
The new legislation, called the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act,” was sponsored by six Democrats and one Republican. The act would place a fee on fossil fuels starting at $15 per ton, which would equal an increase of about 15¢ per gallon of gas, Ghan said.
Climate change needs to be addressed at a national level to be truly effective, and polls show that 62 percent of Americans believe Congress should act to address climate change, Ghan said. To be successful, legislation will need bipartisan support, and CCL believes that the carbon fee and dividend approach can appeal to both parties.
The legislation has gained support among Republicans because it is a market-based, revenue-neutral approach, Ghan said. The policy would place a fee on fossil fuels that starts low and increases over time. The market response will drive down carbon pollution because energy companies, leading industries, and American consumers will move toward cleaner, cheaper energy options, he said.
“The market will find the lowest-cost technologies,” Ghan said. “In the short term, people may spend more on gas, but in the long term they will choose to buy a more efficient car.” The market will drive innovation and development of cleaner technologies, and result in new jobs connected to growth in the clean energy economy, Ghan said.
“Economists love a price on carbon because consumers are not paying the full costs for carbon pollution” in terms of environmental, social and health impacts, he said.
The policy is revenue-neutral because fees collected on carbon emissions will be allocated to American citizens. The government will not keep fees and the size of government will not grow, he said. In addition, the money allocated to citizens through dividends would increase spending and boost the economy, Ghan said.
In response to a question from a local resident at the recent meeting, Ghan said Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican who represents the Methow Valley, seems to be undecided about how to approach the question of climate change.
“In 2015, when the wildfires were raging, he said there is no question the climate is changing. Then … he said we don’t know what’s causing it. But then he said we have to do something about it,” Ghan said. “We haven’t had a response from him on this specific bill.”
The pending carbon fee and dividend legislation is unlikely to become becoming law this year, Ghan acknowledged. “We all know if Congress would pass something this session, Trump would veto it. But it would raise climate change as an issue in the presidential election,” he said.
Ghan noted that Canada implemented a revenue-neutral carbon tax this year. The tax begins at $20 per ton and will rise by $10 per year until reaching $50 per ton in 2022. Several Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, have already implemented carbon pricing systems, and according to the Canadian government, those provinces were among the top in the nation in economic growth in 2017.
Ghan, a climate scientist from Richland and leader of the CCL chapter there, was also scheduled to host a meeting in Tonasket to help citizens form a CCL chapter in Okanogan County. He held a public meeting in the Methow Valley last year to provide information about CCL’s carbon fee and dividend proposal and encourage creation of a local chapter. CCL has more than 500 chapters around the world.