Washington is mired in gridlock over healthcare, energy, taxes, infrastructure, security, jobs and the economy.
Climate change worsens all these problems, although far down the list of most people’s concerns. While many think fighting climate change will damage our economy, most economists think a carbon price will both strengthen it and fight climate change. However, many consider implementing a carbon price impossible.
The difficulties are only apparent. Conservative, liberal, nonpartisan, even industry groups have proposed plans similar to the one below. Readers can check out Citizens Climate Lobby, Carbontax.org and Climate Leadership Council for examples.
Here’s a version of such a plan and why it would improve all of the problems listed above, even gridlock itself.
A 5-POINT PLAN
1. Impose a carbon pollution fee where fossil fuels enter the economy (mine, well, or port) and increase it $5–10/ton of CO2 annually. Have a blue–ribbon, non–partisan panel of economists and scientists evaluate progress every 5 years to revise fees based on available economic and scientific data.
Trying to reduce pollution by government regulation has proven complex and ineffective. Subsidies for old energy sources and government–chosen new ones have been a recipe for corruption, waste and stagnation.
2. Rebate all fees to citizens as equal, tax-free, quarterly dividend payments. Allocating fee proceeds to other uses would make them taxes, undermine support, and reduce benefits.
3. Set border carbon adjustments to avoid disadvantaging US companies and discourage outsourcing of jobs and pollution. Rebate fees on exports to, and impose fees on imports from, countries without similar carbon pricing.
4. Phase out government regulations such as standards for vehicles and light bulbs, the Clean Power Plan, etc.
5. Eliminate energy subsidies. Size of subsidies is difficult to estimate (probably $10–50 B/yr). If environmental and medical costs are included, savings could exceed $600 B/yr. Savings could be redirected to more productive purposes, e.g., to retrain workers and develop alternative industries in areas like Appalachia.
Such a plan would let markets operate freely and have the following benefits.
- It will help working-class Americans
The plan satisfies both conservatives’ aversion to increasing taxes and progressives’ to regressive taxes. A carbon fee would increase prices, but surprisingly little. A $15 fee (suggested by the non–partisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby) would raise the price of gasoline about 13¢/gal. A $40 fee (the conservative Climate Leadership Council) would increase gas about 36¢/gal.
The Treasury Department estimates a $49/ton fee would increase costs about $583 per person. Importantly, however, the bottom 70% of Americans would receive more in dividends than they pay in increased prices, benefiting those struggling to make ends meet. Dividends wouldn't be giveaways; they'd be earned: the efficient come out ahead, polluters pay more.
- It will strengthen the economy
A carbon fee sends a market signal encouraging innovation throughout the economy.
Innovation and market forces will stimulate replacement of inefficient energy, building and transportation infrastructure, generating jobs in renewable energy, retrofitting buildings and rebuilding infrastructure.
Companies and households will be incentivized to make durable purchases that reduce their carbon footprints and improve their profits and dividends, stimulating more jobs.
The plan would give businesses and individuals predictability lacking today. Reducing regulation reduces government interference; companies will not have to meet conflicting state and federal regulations.
Reducing pollution reduces healthcare costs. Air and water pollution from fossil fuel electricity generation alone has been estimated to cause annual health care costs of $360–890 B.
No other country is leaving the Paris Accord and the world is moving away from fossil fuels. We’ll be left behind if we don't keep up — especially if other countries impose pollution fees on American exports.
- It will improve security
Increasing domestic renewable energy will reduce reliance on volatile overseas markets. This will reduce need for military interventions, saving lives and money, and likely reducing terrorism.
Diversifying energy generation, distribution and storage will reduce likelihood, and limit spread, of blackouts whether from overloads, storms or cyber attacks.
Showing energy leadership will preserve our influence on future negotiations.
- It will improve government
Progress on so many problems will decrease polarization and increase public confidence. Phasing out regulations will free funds and staff, reduce the burden of legal challenges on the legal system, and eliminate rationale for more heavy-handed future regulation.
- We have a moral imperative
Climate change already imposes significant costs and risks, as hurricane Harvey demonstrates. Here in the northeast, extreme downpours and snowfalls increased over 70% since the 1950s — a trend reflected in 3 floods in 4 years.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “no man can … during his own life, eat up the … lands for several generations to come, … then the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living.” We must not ‘eat up’ the land, air and water or we will be forcing our children to pay for our wastefulness and procrastination. We have obligations, especially to the poor, elderly & children here and abroad who will suffer most.
America cannot afford to remain mired in gridlock. Stop the Red vs Blue fight; seize the opportunity to unite, strengthen and invigorate our entire country — to make America greater than we have been. Check out the websites of the organizations listed above. Join whichever matches your politics — become lobbyists for each other, for our environment and for posterity!
Frank Price is a retired Ph.D. ecologist with broad backgrounds in biology and in the history & philosophy of science. He has taught at Hamilton and Utica Colleges and worked in information technology. He encourages questions and feedback; write firstname.lastname@example.org.