By Guest Columnist ALEX MACGREGOR, an Atlanta-based transportation consultant
With each passing year, the harmful effects of global climate change are becoming clearer, and the damage is mounting.
So far, Georgia has been spared most of the headline-grabbing disasters related to climate change, like California’s Camp Wildfire that killed 86 people, or Hurricane Maria’s devastating toll on Puerto Rico.
But the damage to Georgia is current, and the costs are already high. In 2017, Hurricane Irma brought a level of destruction and flooding to Coastal Georgia that experts worry could become routine. The prior year, 2016, was the worst wildfire year on record in the Southern Appalachians.
Last fall, Hurricane Michael crippled Georgia’s iconic pecan orchards, among many other agricultural industries that make up the backbone of Georgia’s economy. Total losses from the disaster stand at almost $3 billion, according to state officials, which would equal about $250 per person if it were spread out over every Georgian.
Against this backdrop of mounting risks for our state, I want to thank U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) for cosponsoring innovative, bipartisan legislation to address climate change: The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019.
“The window of opportunity to secure our natural environment against existential threats produced by human activity is rapidly closing,” Johnson says. His support of this bill shows that he means what he says about the environment.
House Resolution 763 is a revenue-neutral climate solution that is expected to reduce our carbon emissions by 40 percent in 12 years, while adding 2.1 million jobs to the economy.
The bill’s mechanism for carbon reduction is a simple carbon fee charged to the companies extracting oil, coal, and other fossil fuels. The revenue from these fees would then be distributed to Americans in the form of a monthly dividend. Households that emit less carbon than the national average, which includes most middle- and low-income households, will tend to see more benefit from the program than they pay in increased costs of day-to-day goods and fuel.
To protect our trade competitiveness, the bill has a built-in border carbon adjustment. Goods imported from countries without an equivalent carbon price will pay an adjustment, while companies exporting goods from the United States will receive a refund.
The bill has sponsors on both sides of the aisle, and the carbon fee-and-dividend approach has the endorsement of a group of Nobel laureate economists and former Federal Reserve chairs across the political spectrum. These Nobel laureates and Fed chairs, along with more than 3,000 other economists, signed statement stating that:
- “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…. To maximize the fairness and political viability of a rising carbon tax, all the revenue should be returned directly to U.S. citizens through equal lump-sum rebates. The majority of American families, including the most vulnerable, will benefit financially by receiving more in ‘carbon dividends’ than they pay in increased energy prices.”
Now is the time to act on climate change. A challenge on this scale is not insurmountable, nor is it unprecedented: America has taken decisive action on environmental issues before with great results.
The Nixon Administration established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 with strong bipartisan support. In those days, pollution was a visceral problem that affected Americans each day. Many of the baseline pollution controls we consider no-brainers today, such as treatment of sewage and the removal of lead from gasoline and paint, were enforced by the EPA.
Likewise, the Clean Air Act of 1990, passed under George H.W. Bush, was intended to reduce pollutants that cause smog and acid rain, and academics generally agree that it met that goal: Ambient pollutant levels declined dramatically in the following decades. But the secondary benefits are probably of greater day-to-day concern for most people: Through reduced mortality, fewer sick days, and fewer hospital visits, the EPA estimates the benefits of the act exceed the costs by a ratio of 30-to-one. It simply makes sense to shift our economy away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy.
In both watershed moments in America’s history, the two parties worked together to put forward effective environmental solutions. Nowadays, no solution to climate change is likely to win congressional approval without support from both Republicans and Democrats. The market-based, revenue-neutral price on carbon in the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is a policy that has bipartisan appeal, giving it the best chance of approval among all the solutions currently on the table.
America can rise to meet the challenge that climate change presents. Considering the risks that Georgians face from climate change, Johnson is serving his constituents well with his support of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Here’s hoping other members of Georgia’s congressional delegation will follow his lead.