When President Biden joined world leaders in Glasgow for the UN’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP), the U.S. had high hopes of leading on climate change.
Indeed, just days prior to the summit, Biden unveiled a framework for his Build Back Better budget reconciliation package, proposing billions of dollars of climate-focused investments: clean energy tax credits, renewable energy development and more.
Here in Tennessee, we are encouraged to see the president’s attention on climate because we are already seeing the impacts in our community with heavy downpours and flooding alternating with drought. It’s time for our elected leaders to act with urgency.
As we await concrete action, the president’s promise to reduce U.S. emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 must be kept.
Right now, Biden’s package falls short. The policies outlined in his framework can deliver roughly 40% reductions below 2005 levels, leaving a deficit that must be addressed.
Lawmakers assume additional emission cuts could come from regulation, but now that safety net looks weak. The Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on the EPA’s authority to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
A ruling against EPA authority would take that tool out of the president’s hands.
In order to ensure our climate goals stay on track, the Senate should include a robust fee on corporate carbon pollution in the final reconciliation bill.
This fee could be collected at the source of the carbon emissions, ensuring that polluters pay for the greenhouse gases they add to our atmosphere and are incentivized to innovate to avoid the fee.
It’s a solution that is already popular. Speaking at COP26, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said there was almost universal support among Democrats for a corporate polluter fee as part of reconciliation.
“We have 49 out of 50 votes,” Whitehouse told Bloomberg Green. “The House has assured us they will also pass it and the White House has assured us the president will sign it into law.”
Such policy would bring a trifecta of positive results. First, a carbon fee would ensure Biden’s emissions commitment is met. Modeling from Resources for the Future shows that a carbon fee alone could deliver 45% emissions reductions by 2030.
Second, the money from the fee could be given back to hardworking American families as a monthly “carbon cash back” check to spend as they see fit. This would protect low- and middle-income Americans who otherwise might not be able to afford the transition.
An exemption could also be made for gasoline bought at the gas pump.
Finally, a carbon fee allows us to be globally competitive. If we fail to enact such a policy, the U.S. could lose out to international players such as Canada and the E.U., who have their own carbon prices and will use a carbon border adjustment to charge international exporters from countries yet to implement similar policy.
With Congress on the verge of finalizing legislation that could pull us from the brink of catastrophic global warming, it is vital that President Biden meets the moment. We urge him to include a carbon fee and dividend in the reconciliation bill.
In early November, Congress passed the bipartisan infrastructure framework (BIF), showing that it can reach agreement on the major challenges facing our country. The BIF includes more than $150 billion in funding earmarked for a transition to clean energy, more EVs, green jobs and climate resilience — all important components as the U.S. steps up to adequately address global warming.
We applaud Congress for having passed this legislation and only wish Sens. Hagerty and Blackburn and Rep. Fleischmann had been farsighted enough to support it.
But we must do more. If we fail to enact comprehensive policy to meet our emission reduction targets, we risk losing our standing on the international stage. Much worse, we risk continuing a trajectory of unchecked global warming.
By implementing a robust fee on pollution, we can bring down emissions rapidly and show the world we are serious when it comes to solving climate change.
David Thomforde is an Athens resident and a volunteer with the Chattanooga chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.