I was in Washington D.C. recently when wildfire smoke from Canada was drifting as far as the East Coast and the Midwest, triggering air quality health alerts. The smell and the scratchy feeling in the back of my throat triggered memories of the 2020 Poeville Fire on Peavine Mountain north of Reno when we were told to evacuate.
It was perfect timing to meet with our members of Congress and insist they pass more legislation to protect the health and safety of American families and communities from extreme weather. I was joined by Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers from all 50 states. We held 436 constituent lobby meetings.
Our message was and remains clear: The U.S. must stop the pollution that is overheating our planet.
Currently, companies that sell products that cause carbon pollution bear no responsibility for the damage. It is downstream communities who pay the cost.
For example, natural gas power plants emit pollution and contribute to overheating the planet. We all feel the brunt of climate change, but the communities near natural gas power plants bear an even higher cost. These are often minority, low-income, and indigenous populations. The impact on their health includes increased risk of heart disease, stroke, lung diseases (i.e. asthma and bronchitis), and more emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and premature deaths.
Polluting should not be free. Let’s change that. Fossil fuel companies should pay a carbon fee, sometimes called a price on carbon.
With a meaningful fee, the price of fossil fuels will reflect the cost of the damage imposed on everyone. A strong, economy-wide price on carbon would help reduce America’s carbon pollution by 90% by 2050.
Companies will pass some of the cost on to customers. And as prices for fossil fuels rise, demand in theory, should go down. That is Economics 101.
The result? Customers will find less expensive substitutes, or reduce their use of fossil fuels. Utilities will switch to renewable energy faster. Companies will have to prioritize energy efficiency in their operations. Businesses will have yet another reason to convert their vehicle fleets from combustion engines to EVs. Homeowners will upgrade old natural gas furnaces to modern heat pumps, and even take advantage of home energy rebates to improve energy efficiency.
What happens to all the fees collected from fossil fuel companies? There are many ideas. Citizens’ Climate Lobby asserts that we must assist low-and-middle-income Americans who otherwise might not be able to afford the transition to a clean energy future, helping them to electrify their homes and invest in more efficient appliances.
All Nevadans face the cost of hardening our homes against wildfire, installing air filtration systems and remodeling buildings to improve energy efficiency and comfort. Not everyone can afford to do this.
A carbon fee is affordable for all Americans when the money collected from fossil fuel companies is given as a dividend, or “carbon cash back” payment, to every American to spend with no restrictions. We know best what we need to protect our families from extreme weather and wildfire smoke.
Studies show that the monthly carbon cash back payments are enough to essentially cover increased costs for 85% of American households.
This type of policy is usually called carbon fee and carbon dividend, and the idea has support in Congress. Legislation has been introduced in every session since 2018, including in the last Congress. H.R.2307 had 95 co-sponsors, including Rep. Dina Titus from Nevada.
Opponents raise two concerns. First, not everyone agrees about what to do with the proceeds from a carbon fee. Second, people often worry about increasing fees or taxes for anyone.
But what is the cost of inaction? Deloitte issued a report about the economic impact of climate change, and estimated that doing nothing would cost the U.S. economy $14.5 trillion over the next 50 years. On the other hand, if we transition to a net-zero economy, the estimated gain to the U.S. is $3 trillion over the next half-century.
In this divided Congress, it’s hard to get anything done. But, we believe it is still possible – especially if we tell our members of Congress what we want. How about a carbon fee and dividend?