Opinion | Bipartisan hope emerging on climate change

Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Richard Barron is a member of the Ann Arbor chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

As impeachment talk ratchets up the partisan tension in Washington, there’s still hope that progress can be made on the most serious threat we face. It appears Republicans and Democrats are coming together, albeit slowly, on one issue that seemed intractable not long ago: climate change.

In the Senate, Republican Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana is teaming up with Maryland Democrat Chris Coons to form a bipartisan climate solutions group.

The Senate group complements the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House that was established in 2016. It became a judgment-free zone where members of both parties could come together for serious discussions about solving climate change. Today, there are many bipartisan climate bills in the House, thanks in part to the collaborative atmosphere this caucus created.

A bipartisan approach to solving climate change is essential, because passing legislation requires buy-in from both sides of the aisle. Regardless of which party controls the Senate and White House, political winds shift, and only policies with broad support will withstand those shifts.

Republicans and Democrats are seeking common ground on climate change because public opinion has reached a tipping point that cannot be ignored. A CBS News poll last month found two-thirds of Americans view climate change as a crisis or serious problem, and a majority want immediate action.

Overwhelming majorities of younger GOP voters regard climate change as a serious threat, too; 77 percent of them said so in a survey by Ipsos and Newsy this fall.

It’s not just polling that motivates Congress — it’s citizens. Volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby are carrying a clear message to their representatives: “Make climate a bridge issue, not a wedge issue.” CCL volunteers have held 1,131 meetings with congressional offices so far this year to bring the parties together on resisting climate change.

Now that we have Republicans and Democrats talking to each other about climate solutions, what major climate legislation will they support together?

A price on carbon offers promising common ground. Thousands of U.S. economists support carbon pricing as an effective tool to reduce emissions quickly. Newsweek recently surveyed 300 multinational corporations and found that 95 percent favor mandatory carbon pricing. And according to Luntz Global, carbon pricing that includes revenue return to Americans, has four to one support among all voters. The International Monetary Fund also supports carbon pricing.

This year, four carbon pricing bills have been introduced with bipartisan sponsorship.

Of the four, the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act (HR 763) [energyinnovationact.org] has attracted the most support, with 66 House members, including three from Michigan, now signed on. This legislation would initiate a fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon, rising by $10 per ton each year. All revenue would be paid out equally to every household. In 10 years, a family of four would receive an annual “carbon dividend” of about $3,500. Resources for the Future estimates this policy would reduce carbon emissions 47 percent  by 2030. The bill targets 90 percent reductions by 2050.

Despite the current hyper-partisan atmosphere, elected officials are realizing that climate change is one area where partisan differences must be set aside for the good of our nation and our planet. And with pressure from voters, our leaders will begin to lead us to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Tue, 10/29/2019 - 8:13am

We want Social Security, Medicare, free college, Obamacare, (all hopelessly unsustainable),next free medical care for all and on and on. Now someone comes up with a possible solution to disincentivise US carbon emission through a tax, (fair enough but very different that solving climate warming) and all they can think of is how to give the money back, as if we weren't running trillion dollar deficits as far as anyone can see. We are no longer a serious nation with any ability to solve anything.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 11:14am

The fee on fossil fuels *does* address climate change by making it more expensive to pollute, and thus encourages *everyone* to use cleaner, cheaper alternatives. According to economists across the political spectrum, putting a price on carbon is the cheapest and quickest way to reduce emissions rapidly. (See econstatement.org, for example.)

Giving the revenue from the fee back to households makes the bill revenue neutral -- in other words, it won't go in to government coffers to be spent on everyone's pet projects. And it's the most fair thing to do with the revenue -- we're all paying the costs of pollution, we should all get a share of the fee. Plus, it will protect American households from the increased costs -- in fact, a majority (especially the middle and lower income) will come out ahead financially.

Sounds like a win-win to me.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 2:16pm

Climate change will on be solved on a global basis, the US doing this is a completely empty gesture when the developing world along with China India and Latin American countries expect to do next to nothing.
What you mean by "pet projects" is I assume free college, free medical care etc etc etc.? What the Left in US refuses to admit is that the nations they hold up as progressive wonderlands have tax rates that hit the lower and middle classes like a ton of bricks. This is the only way they can afford them, that along with spending next to nothing on national defense. You want to live like Demark and Sweden you got to pay like the Danes and Swedes.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 3:24pm

That's one of the additional benefits of H.R.763 -- it *is* a global solution because of the border carbon adjustment. Any countries that don't have an equivalent price on pollution will have to pay a tariff at the border on the goods they sell us. This is a huge incentive for them to implement their own carbon price and keep the revenue internally, instead of paying the carbon fee to the U.S.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 6:12pm

Climate change NEEDS to be solved on a global basis. I'm not sure I agree with your statement, however, that climate change WILL be solved on a global basis. Who goes first? India must go first and only THEN the US will do something? That is a recipe for failure and dooming the situation. Agreed, China and India as nations have large emissions at present, but the picture looks entirely different when you look at the per person/per capita carbon pollution problem. The US is #1 and our per-person emissions dwarfs that of China and everywhere else. That's how we became the economic powerhouse we are, so it's our responsibility to do our share to address the problem. Being the economic superpower that we are, we are in a position to bring the other large economies along with us by means of an economic, market plan like this. China, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, almost all of Europe and the Netherlands, South Africa, to a total of 57 carbon pricing initiatives are implemented or scheduled for implementation (https://carbonpricingdashboard.worldbank.org/), and India, while not explicitly having a price on carbon, has an implicit price in its RPOs (Renewable Purchase Obligations). Admittedly, almost all of these prices are too low to achieve what we need, but it's a scaffold we as an economic powerhouse can build on: with a border adjustment that requires the difference in their fee vs. our fee applied at our borders and given to our citizens, the incentive is there for the tides of carbon pricing levels to rise together. It makes it a globally-impactful policy. It's a lot better than ONLY regulating ourselves internally, which will not bring global emissions down enough. It just won't.

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 2:09pm

Mary and Ginny, the issue is that the nations we're speaking of, have populations dwarfing the US, Canada and western Europe. The outcome of their inevitable modernization means, even with lower emissions per person, they swamp our reductions. This assumes we can trust their promises which at least China has already proven we can't. We can pass whatever law you want but this promises unending trade and even military conflict at best. You want a consumption tax based on carbon? Fine, we've got a pile of upside-down social programs my grandkids shouldn’t have to pay for, but the results you look for will be another thing and wind, solar and batteries can't replace what we have now and won't get us there.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 9:52pm

You don't really believe the money will come back to you and the poor do you? I have a bridge I can sell you.

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 1:04pm

Maybe maybe not, but if folks want a socialized society, (which they seem to want.) they should pay socialist taxes!

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 8:47am

The money won't come back to the people. I base that on the promises our legislature made to us when they increased our gas tax to fix roads. Roads aren't fixed and yet they are again promising they will fix them if we give them more money.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 11:14am

You'll forgive me for being less than thrilled when two capitalist parties agree to pursue an ineffective strategy that allows them to look like they care about the future, while not actually challenging the fundamental structure at the root of the problem. Carbon pricing would have been a great free market bandaid if it had been implemented in 1980, or even 2000. But we are long past a time where a paltry carbon tax ($15 per ton as the starting point? Really?) is going to be enough to avert or even adjust to the coming impacts of climate change. Americans need to come to terms with the fact that our hyper-atomized consumerist society is fundamentally unsustainable; we cannot continue to exploit the environment (and the people of the Global South) as we do now without reeping the same awful consequences in the coming decades that poor people around are sufferng through today (Syrian civil war precipitated by mega-drought, Tuvalu sinking into the Pacific, massive increases in heat related deaths at the equator). Nothing less than a paradigm shift in the way we think about our economic priorities and our relationship to the natural world is going to save us.

Oh, and Matt: Do us all a favor and shuffle off. You and your ilk enabled this destruction, and you continue to impede meaningful action to address the situation.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 12:55pm

I agree we need a paradigm shift, but I don't see how that will happen soon enough. Though this legislation alone is not enough, it will reduce emissions dramatically -- 40% in 10 years, 90% by 2050 -- and is a lot more viable than any other proposals to date. Take a look at Resources for the Future's Carbon Pricing Calculator (http://rff.org/cpc) for emission reduction projections for this (and other) carbon pricing bills. Given that we cannot stop burning fossil fuels instantaneously, it doesn't make any sense to *not* make fossil fuel producers pay to pollute. Fossil fuels should include the cost of the damages they're causing so that the costs of climate impacts are included in our everyday economic decisions.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 12:59pm

Matt HR 763 is before Congress and will have a major impact if it were enacted. It will quickly ramp up to meaningful levels by raising the carbon fee each year. Some bills , such as that suggested by former Republican Statesmen ( Jim Baker et al) stop, as i recall, at 40$/ton and would allow the oil companies to pollute forever. Suggest you get involved in real world solutions - this is how paradigm changes come about. Suggest you get involved, for example, with the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 12:59pm

Matt HR 763 is before Congress and will have a major impact if it were enacted. It will quickly ramp up to meaningful levels by raising the carbon fee each year. Some bills , such as that suggested by former Republican Statesmen ( Jim Baker et al) stop, as i recall, at 40$/ton and would allow the oil companies to pollute forever. Suggest you get involved in real world solutions - this is how paradigm changes come about. Suggest you get involved, for example, with the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 2:16pm

At first blush, I can understand your skepticism about a fee starting at $15/ton being enough to reduce emissions at the rate necessary to stem off the worst impacts of climate change. The key is in the rate of increase locked into the bill, i.e. increasing each year by $10/ton.

But, don't take my word for it. Check out this carbon pricing calculator from Resources for the Future (https://www.rff.org/cpc/ ). It allows one to compare all of the carbon pricing bills in play in Congress right now and see how effective they are at reducing emissions. Columbia University has also looked into the various bills and has some very helpful information at https://energypolicy.columbia.edu/what-you-need-know-about-federal-carbo....

A price on emissions will catalyze the transition to the low carbon economy. It doesn't solve everything, but it would go a long way toward moving us in the right direction.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 2:24pm

So your solution is the line all capitalists up against the wall and shoot them as a punishment for letting you living beyond a middle ages lifestyle? Oh and given you probably wouldn't have lived to your current age, do whatever you want to rectify that injustice.

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 11:16am

All of them? Heavens no. The ones who funded bad science and doubt to lie to the public about the coming apocalypse so they could rake in billions? Absolutely

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 2:44pm

Except that a carbon fee and dividend does promise to be effective, not ineffective, and can be done in time. The sad fact of the matter is that we should ha
ve taken action in 1980, but asking for a worldwide revolution of sorts is not going to solve the problem. Our unsustainable path can, though, be reined in by the mechanisms at hand, which is the economy, the market, and the way money is spent. There is zero reason for the carbon that poisons the air not to be the more expensive source of our energy. It is artificially subsidized right now to make it less expensive than it is, when societal costs are taken into account. Leaving it thus subsidized is just counterproductive and counterintuitive, not to mention unjust. When the cost of fossil fuels start to reflect their true costs, and renewables by default become the cheaper option, then our energy needs can be more than adquately met by renewable, clean energy -- there is just no financial incentive for power companies or anybody else to go that route, yet. The fee may start at $15, but that enables it to start somewhere, at a fee where the economy doesn't go into a shock, of sorts. The cost becomes $25 year 2, $35 year 3, $45 year 4, and up by $10 every year. Having the writing on the wall like this allows businesses and investors to see what's coming and prepare without too much sudden and surprising impact. The Clean Power Plan, in many ways, did this: The CPP never ever went into effect. Never. But it still had an effect in reducing emissions, because after it was passed, companies adjusted to meet the targets. Then when it never went into effect, they'd still positioned themselves to be ready, so it had a good effect anyway. That's what a predictably rising fee will do: allow everybody to adjust and get their ducks in a row, knowing the future doesn't allow for cheap fossil fuels.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 12:39pm

Carbon pricing is widely accepted as the best first step to reigning in carbon pollution. Starting the price low will give businesses and consumers time to start adjusting and preparing for yearly price increases. Carbon pricing exists in 50 jurisdictions worldwide including Canada which recently implemented a similar carbon fee with dividend for provinces that didn't have their own carbon pricing plan. (British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008 and it has been popular, effective at reducing emissions and hasn't hurt their economy). https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2019/07/12/carbon-pricing-is-fina...

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 1:53pm

Thank you to Mr. Barron for this article. Carbon fee and dividend is simple, effective, and fair. It would reduce the use of carbon fuels, while incentivising sustainable energy sources. The carbon dividend would help with wealth inequality. We would have cleaner air and water. There would be tremendous job growth in the already expanding areas of solar and wind energy. We might actually be able to do something about the looming climate crisis. What is not to like?!

Charles Eichenlaub
Tue, 10/29/2019 - 4:40pm

This is an elegant solution! Put a price on carbon, grow the economy and add jobs ...all while reducing pollution.

Christopher Duco
Tue, 10/29/2019 - 5:11pm

As a person with significant education in nuclear physics and thermodynamics I find this garbage infuriating.

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 9:48pm

Mich gov wants to add 45cents/gal for gasoline so how much more for a carbon tax? How much for heating my house with gas or oil? And then shut down gas pipelines will increase the price for raw materials. And most articles made of plastic will greatly increase also. Transportation costs will increase because large trucks won't run on electricity. Where will it end? Our standard of living will diminish except for the richest. But that is the wish of 2030 Agenda (UN)

Marco Menezes
Wed, 10/30/2019 - 10:13am

I’m glad they’re talking and their efforts, if successful, might stem the duration of severe climate disruption. Unfortunately, given the deniers degree of entrenchment, I fear a more realistic name for this bipartisan group would be the “too little, too late caucus.”

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 8:42am

Sorry, but thus issue of climate change is not an exact science and is mainly about how governments can tax people and businesses.

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 11:19am

OK Boomer

Can you explain the mechanism by which CO2 and other GHG cause warming? Should be a simple thing, since you're clearly well informed on the matter...

Al Warner
Thu, 10/31/2019 - 1:29pm

Yes, we (are way past the) need (for) a carbon fee. But, no, this bi-partisan solution is NOT the correct implementation. The only way this works is if the money collected offsets specific energy efficiency incentives like: trade in rebate for old appliances when buying energy efficient ones, rebates for old cars when purchasing battery electric vehicles, rebates for home insulation/leak reduction, roof top solar investment tax credit extension, etc. Most of these improvements are more expensive and significant rebates are needed to drive change. With this legislation, the uninformed will complain about their rising energy costs, but then they'll get it back and use it for whatever: a vacation, more meals out, or keeping up with their cable bill (which costs way more than their electric/gas bill).

And also, it strips the EPA's ability to regulate CO2 for 10 years to see if people invest in the right things to reduce their CO2:
"it pauses the EPA authority to regulate the CO2 and equivalent emissions covered by the fee, for the first 10 years after the policy is enacted. If emission targets are not being met after 10 years, Congress gives clear direction to the EPA to regulate those emissions to meet those targets. "
Don't our congressmen/women get it? We only have 10 years to reduce our CO2 production by MORE than HALF. There is no time to experiment with a free market approach. We need mandates and mechanisms to encourage/enforce those mandates.

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 5:29pm

Thank you Mr. Barron and Mr. Reynolds for explaining this policy and its merits. A carbon fee and dividend as you describe is a critical policy to put in place to combat the worst effects of climate change. Other actions that we do to some degree already, such as transitioning to solar energy, taking steps to use less energy, better sealing and insulating our dwellings, etc. will all be more financially favorable once a carbon fee and dividend is in place. It is nice also that a carbon fee and dividend can be complementary to other policies such as the Green New Deal proposal. We need to get on with it. I hope people who read your article will consider learning more and contacting their representatives to ask them to support a carbon fee and dividend as an effective step towards addressing climate change.