By Sarah “Steve” Mosko
Studies abound linking the increase in extreme weather-related catastrophes in recent decades, like droughts, floods, hurricanes and blizzards, to global climate change.
Climate experts stress the urgency of addressing the problem now, predicting cascading economic and political, social and environmental upheavals worldwide if action is delayed. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the CO2 content of earth’s atmosphere has shot up from 275 ppm to over 400 ppm, already well above the 350 ppm limit some scientists believe is a safe level above which we risk triggering irreversible consequences out of human control.
Most Americans agree with the climatologists who believe that climate change is happening and likely caused by greenhouse gases produced by the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels. Asked if “the federal government should act to limit the amount of greenhouse gases U.S. businesses put out,” 78% said yes in a national poll which appeared January 20 in The New York Times. This reflects 60% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats polled.
Yet Congress is still home to a cadre of climate change deniers. Even among the majority in Congress that don’t dispute it, previous legislative proposals to price carbon emissions can be counted on two hands and all died in committee, revealing a glaring lack of political will to tackle this perceived global threat. This comes as no surprise given that fossil fuel industry lobbyists are well represented among the paid lobbyists on Capitol Hill which outnumber members of Congress 4-to-1.
Enter the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization populated by volunteer citizens with a single mission: Create the political will in Congress to pass a real solution to climate change, palatable to politicians across the political spectrum.
CCL’s legislative proposal is elegantly simple, just two pages, and dubbed “Carbon Fee-and-Dividend.” In the first year, the CO2 content of fossil fuels would be charged a $15 per ton fee at the points of entry into the economy (i.e. coal mines, oil wells and ports). This begins to level the playing field for all sources of energy. However, the fee would rise annually by $10 per ton of CO2, providing a competitive stimulus for industry to move to cheaper, renewable energy.
Because industry would pass the resulting increases in producing carbon-heavy products on to consumers, 100% of the collected fees would be returned to American households as monthly cash dividends in amounts commensurate with household size. This would increase demand for products with a lower carbon footprint.
The plan’s universal appeal stems from the facts that it puts money back in the pockets of consumers, is 100% net revenue neutral for industry, and allows market forces to pick industry winners and losers over time. Plus, it does not ask members of Congress to violate any pledges made to block new taxes adding to government coffers.
CCL members’ lobbying-style emphasis on listening to the concerns of congresspersons has been key to building relationships on both the left and right.
The organization provides volunteers with supportive training so they feel competent when meeting face-to-face with members of Congress or writing letters to politicians and newspapers. Volunteers are armed with the compelling results of a nation-wide economic model done in 2014 which analyzes the impacts of Carbon Fee-and-Dividend on CO2 emissions and the economy.
This analysis was performed by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) which, as the name implies, models economics in a designated region – in this case 160 industries encompassing the U.S. economy. The 20-year predictions include a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions below 1990 levels, addition of 2.8 million new jobs to the U.S. economy, cumulative additional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth exceeding $1.3 trillion, and 227,000 fewer premature deaths from air pollution.
A family of four could expect well over $3,000 in annual dividend income, and it’s estimated that two-thirds of Americans should break even or net a profit.
CCL contends that the reason predicted outcomes of previously proposed carbon taxes have been less rosy (like the 2013 one done by the Congressional Budget Office) is because they lack the key feature of 100% dividend to the American people.
REMI has performed modeling in 47 different states for high profile clients in both private and public sectors without ideological bias. The full CCL-commissioned analysis can be accessed on CCL’s website.
CCL’s ultimate goal is to set off a global domino-effect fee on carbon, with the U.S.in the lead. Consequently, a carbon fee “border adjustment” is proposed, aimed at discouraging U.S. businesses from relocating to countries with lax CO2 emissions standards while also incentivizing other nations to place their own fee on carbon. The border adjustment would be imposed on imports from nations failing to set their own carbon pricing mechanism and returned to U.S. manufacturers as reward when they export to those nations.
Mark Tabbert, co-founder of CCL’s Orange County, Calif. chapter, believes that, in reality, the border tariff will never be imposed, as the threat alone will bring other nations along.
By design, the border adjustment complies fully with the two rules set by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The one known as “most favored nation” requires that tariffs treat all nations equally, and the “national treatment” rule specifies that tariffs treat domestic and foreign products the same.
The first U.S. CCL chapter was established 2007 by just three citizens. The organization has grown to 249 local chapters across all 50 states, organized by congressional district, and boasts 1,086 lobby meetings in 2014 alone. Their first-Saturday-of-the-month meetings are efficient, educational and task-oriented. They begin with an international, educational listen-in, followed by within-chapter reports of accomplishments over the last month and planned actions for the next. Visit the CCL website to locate a chapter In your area.
There are chapters in 15 other countries too. All CCL members are encouraged to attend the upcoming international CCL conference in Washington, June 21-23, at which the goal is to have meetings with all 535 members of Congress.