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Climate bill pays dividends

By Lorelei Goff

We started off 2019 with a conversation about why we have reason to hope for the future of our environment. Today, I’d like to continue that conversation with something more tangible — a strategy.

On Jan. 24, House bill 763 reintroduced a bipartisan strategy for curbing carbon pollution, which contributes to climate change, and growing jobs across the nation. Unlike most bills that make their way through Congress, this one aims to put more money in our pockets.

Exactly what is HR 763 and how will it affect us here in Northeast Tennessee? It began as HR 7173, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2018, introduced into the house with nine bipartisan cosponsors in November. A companion bill, S 3791, introduced in December by then outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), awaits reintroduction to the Senate in the coming months.

HR 763, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019, calls for a fee on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. The fee will increase over a set number of years and will act as an incentive for moving away from fossil fuels to cleaner, cheaper energy sources. At the same time, it will reduce carbon pollution by 40 percent over the next 12 years and about 90 percent by 2050. This will help to limit global temperature rise and reduce illnesses and medical costs linked to the air pollution that drives climate change.

Businesses can offset the fee by capturing carbon emissions and keeping them out of the atmosphere. To protect American industries and jobs, the act calls for a border carbon adjustment fee. This fee will keep the playing field level for American companies and prevent jobs from going to other countries with cheaper labor and resources, as we’ve seen happen in our region all too often in past years. The act will also protect our region’s farmers with an exemption to the fee.

The plan is considered revenue neutral because the fee is not a tax, which is considered revenue for the government. Instead, fees collected will be put into a trust fund for the American people and distributed to us by the Treasury Department each month. The dividend will increase each year as the fee rises, topping out at roughly $3,500 per year, or nearly $300 per month, for a family of four.

Under this plan, more money will be returned to people than is paid in increased costs on fossil fuels and goods. In other words, we’ll get cash and a cleaner environment for helping to save our planet. More cash in our pockets to spend as we want each month, means stronger local economies and increased jobs. In fact, the plan predicts an increase of 2.1 million local jobs across the nation.

The most dire reason to enact a carbon pricing plan like HR 763 came to light in October with a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to the report, impacts of climate change, like hot and cold temperature extremes, severe weather outbreaks, sea level rise and diminishing arctic sea ice, are already happening. Projections for just another 1 degree Celsius rise in the average global temperature warn of catastrophic droughts, famines, natural disasters, and increased cost of living and poverty.

It also poses unique challenges to our national security. Officials in the Department of Defense have said that climate change poses immediate risks to national security and called it a “threat multiplier.” 

Limiting global temperature rise to an additional .5 degrees Celsius from where it is today, could mean a huge difference in terms of droughts, flooding, loss of ecosystems and giving humans time to adapt to a changing climate. To do that will require what the report calls “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

The United States ranks second in carbon emissions, behind China and ahead of India and Russia. More than 40 countries, including China and the European Union, already have carbon pricing plans of some kind, most being of the carbon tax or cap and trade variety. Many are making long strides in clean energy development. China has made significant cuts in coal use and is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in clean energy.

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would again place America among the leading nations of the world in finding climate change solutions. It will also help to keep us competitive with other first world countries in developing technology and energy strategies as we move through the 21st century.

It’s important to let our elected officials know we want the cleaner environment, better health, climate change mitigation and economic growth HR 763 can deliver. Our voices or our silence will influence our future.