Time for a check-in. How is the climate conversation moving in the halls of Congress?
I know more than most people because I’ve made it a priority to be informed. In 2013, I began to volunteer as a member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. This means that I do what I can to build the political will so that our Congress will do the right thing when it comes to climate.
And ever since December 2018, this “right thing” has been to sign on to H.R. 763, a climate bill that will reduce carbon dramatically over the next few decades while infusing enough cash into the economy to both fund the transition to renewables and support those least able to pay for higher prices.
It does this by placing a fee on carbon and carbon-equivalents at their source (where it is pulled out of the ground or released into the air or imported at the border), and then in a simple move by the Treasury Department, turned around into regular monthly dividend checks for each American citizen.
It is a relatively simple bill, with a clear strategy, and values embedded into it from both left and right. Several other carbon-pricing bills have emerged since this bill; none are revenue-neutral. We applaud the debate on the most efficient way to reduce emissions, while we continue to support this bill above all others.
H.R. 763 was reintroduced after the 2018 election. At this writing, it has 59 co-sponsors in the House, with one lone Republican on board. This means that we constituents of Republican Rep. Pete Stauber have very important work to do. And here’s where it’s handy to be a volunteer with CCL — you find out what is actually going on in Washington D.C., which bears little resemblance to news headlines.
In June, 1,500 citizens descended on the halls of Congress to partake in prescheduled meetings with members of Congress and their staff. The focus of the meetings was H.R. 763. Out of the 535 possible meetings (with 435 members of the House and 100 members in the Senate), they actually had 529 meetings. Pretty good!
These meetings showed us progress and demonstrated what still needs to be done. We were given a distilled version of the most common objections to this bill, both from the right and the left. I’m certain that these objections come up in conversation with regular people as well.
Perhaps you have these concerns yourself. I will lay them out as briefly as I can, as well as possible responses to the objections:
Objection 1 from the Right: This bill is a tax, and taxes are bad. It’s akin to wealth redistribution.
Response: It’s not a tax. No one has to pay it. It is a fee that ensures that we no longer get to pollute for free. Those who are most responsible with their resources, actually get a break. No one is locked into being a winner or a loser, as wealth redistribution suggests. This bill preserves our individual choice, and our freedom to change our minds any time we want.
Objection 2 from the Right: This bill looks suspiciously like the beginning of a universal income.
Response: This bill forecasts its own demise. Any income bill would not be self-diminishing. Once the problem is solved, the fees disappear and the dividends with it.
Objection 1 from the Left: This bill is market-based and markets can’t be trusted to do the right thing.
Response: This bill is the result of what experts have been telling us. Economists and scientists agree that pricing carbon is the most efficient way to cut greenhouse gases quickly. It is important to listen to experts.
Objection 2 from the Left: The regulatory pause is a bad idea. We need the regulations to keep corporations in line.
Response: This bill is bipartisan, and removing regulations is important to supporters on the right side of the aisle. This bill pauses the EPA’s authority to regulate the carbon dioxide and equivalent emissions covered by the fee. If the experts are wrong, and if targets are not met after 10 years, the EPA regains its power to regulate those emissions.
No other emissions (like auto mileage standards) are affected by this bill. If the experts are right, greenhouse gas emissions will drop far more quickly than the current regulations would mandate.
Many of those regulations are currently bogged down in the courts anyway, as executive orders are wont to be when a new administration takes office. Bipartisan, legislative solutions have the sticking power that EPA mandates do not.
Everywhere, everyone, is being affected by climate and it’s easy to get bogged down in the noise. I hope this has given you some idea of what is going on at our capitol. It is more cordial, more meaningful and slower-moving than what you read in the headlines.
It is also a complicated dance, and someday we will lament every day that nothing was done, as the consequences of climate chaos continue to mount in intensity and duration. Danny Richter, vice president of governmental affairs for CCL, compares it to “playing chess while the fire alarm is going off.”
Katya Gordon is a volunteer for the Citizens' Climate Lobby and a Two Harbors resident.