Sound Off: Climate on the agenda this year; carbon tax should be too

A few weeks into the new administration, the federal government is off to a roaring start on climate change. Democrats have indicated climate change is a priority issue they intend to tackle. President Biden signed a raft of executive orders related to climate change elevating the issue across the federal government. The Senate majority leader directed all relevant Senate committees to begin holding hearings on climate.

Just last week, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (14) was reintroduced in the U.S. House with 28 co-sponsors. The bill would place a rising fee on carbon pollution that will get America to net zero emissions by 2050. Revenue from the fee would be distributed evenly to all Americans as monthly payments.

Republicans, too, know their constituents are struggling with the impacts of climate change, and their younger voters in particular are eager for representation in this national discussion. A recent Pew Research Poll found that two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans say the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change.

A total of 3,589 U.S. Economists, four former chairs of the Federal Reserve, 28 Nobel Laureate economists and 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers say a carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary. By correcting a well-known market failure, a carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future.

As our Rep. Rick Larsen and Sens. Murray and Cantwell and their colleagues in Congress evaluate policy options, they should consider the broadly popular carbon tax or fee. A carbon tax can quickly slash our emissions and save lives—plus, when designed right, it can actually pay people and benefit American business. Endorsements from the scientific community, health organizations, economists and businesses show that this is the consensus solution. Let’s explore why.

Bill Gates tells us we need to cut 51 billion tons of CO2 from our waste stream per year. As we all understand by now, it’s imperative that the world reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That target comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s game-changing 2018 report. In that same report, the IPCC specified that “carbon pricing is a necessary condition of ambitious climate policies.” A steadily rising carbon tax could slash emissions enough to reach the net-zero by 2050 target. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reinforced that message in a new report, naming a carbon tax as one of the solutions to reach net-zero. Scientists are committed to solving this problem, so they’re throwing support behind the most effective solution available.

Deep emissions cuts will not only help the climate but will also be a huge boon to public health. We could save 4.5 million American lives over the next 50 years by replacing pollution with clean air. That’s why the Lancet Commission endorses carbon pricing, calling it “the single most powerful strategic instrument to inoculate human health against the risks of climate change.”

In addition to health benefits, a carbon tax can provide economic benefits to Americans, too. A fee and dividend structure will actually put the carbon fee revenue into people’s pockets to spend as they see fit. With a revenue neutral, as in the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act 85 percent of Americans come out ahead or essentially break even with an average monthly dividend reaching $300 for a family of 4 by 2030.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is a longtime supporter of this approach. She affirmed in her January confirmation process that she is “fully supportive” of effective carbon pricing. A carbon tax is better for business, as well. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently announced its support of a “market-based approach to accelerate emissions reductions.” A carbon tax is considered a market-based approach, giving businesses the ultimate say on how they shift to clean energy. It is far more predictable and durable than regulations, which can change with the stroke of a new President’s pen.

With scientists, public health professionals, economists, and businesses supporting a carbon tax, Congress should listen closely. Plus, the American people themselves expect results. Public polling shows 60 percent of people nationwide want Congress to do more to address global warming. An effective carbon tax would fit the bill and put America on the fast track to a healthy, prosperous future.

Dean Enell is a member of the Whidbey Chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the national executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.