In his watershed book, Storms of My Grandchildren, Dr. James Hansen put forth the idea of a carbon fee and dividend policy as a mechanism to cut carbon emissions. Dr. Hansen was head of the Goddard Institute at NASA and arguably the most influential climate scientist in America.
Dr. Hansen’s research predicted that ice around the world would melt faster than current climate change models predicted. He checked those models against actual historical data and found that important natural effects, like methane releases in the Artic, were being left out of the equations. The models were underestimating how fast the Earth could warm and polar ice could melt.
The Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) was the first organization to propose a carbon fee and dividend (CFD) policy as a solution to effectively reduce carbon emissions. The CCL’s motto is, “Creating political will for a livable world.” For over 10 years, volunteer members of the CCL have been lobbying national, state, and local politicians to sign on to a CFD policy as the best solution to reduce CO2 emissions. The CCL reaches out to community leaders and organizations to endorse their CFD policy.
The policy would enact a $15-per-ton tax of CO2 emissions initially. The carbon fee would increase by $10 per ton annually. A steadily rising fee per ton appeals to businesses and investors because their predictions are based on actual costs on their emissions.
The carbon fee tells the market the true cost of burning fossil fuels and will create a more level playing field for clean energy—wind, solar, photovoltaic, geothermal, hydroelectric, and nuclear. For more information about the non-partisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby and its carbon fee and dividend proposal, go to citizensclimatelobby.org.
CCL volunteer Jay Butera has lobbied for years to get South Florida House members, whose districts are struggling with frequent high tide flooding, to organize into a group. Last year, two members of the House from South Florida formed the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bi-partisan group that is learning about the effects of climate change and viable solutions. A potential member must find a member of the opposite party to join at the same time. That way, there will always be an equal number of Democrats and Republicans in the group, so real bi-partisanship is necessary for consensus and action.
One of the 40 members of the caucus is our own 24th District Rep. Salud Carbajal, who believes that there is a solution to combat climate change that is effective and consistent with values shared by both sides of the aisle. Rep. Carbajal pledged to us that he would work in bi-partisan ways when he went to Washington, and he has delivered on that promise by writing and co-sponsoring bi-partisan legislation. Recently, the caucus introduced the Climate Solutions Commission Act, which would create a bi-partisan commission to recommend economically viable policies to reduce carbon emissions.
A group called the Climate Leadership Council includes respected conservative Republicans, such as former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schultz and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who issued their version of a carbon fee and dividend policy. It is a big step in the right direction by conservative Republicans.
The council recognizes the reality of climate change—that people have greatly contributed to climate change and that fighting climate change with increasing fees on carbon emissions at mines, wells, and ports of entry, and steadily rising, per-capita dividends to anyone with a Social Security number is the best market-based solution to the critical issues of climate change. No new federal agency is needed to administer the new program because the U.S. Treasury will collect the fees, and the Social Security Administration will handle the dividend side of the policy.
Recently, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, a pact involving nearly 200 nations that aims to slow the warming of the planet. The president cited several “alternative facts” and a one-sided report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as his reasons for withdrawing. There were immediate negative responses from governments around the world, global companies, and environmental groups.
Our governor, Jerry Brown, called the president’s action “insane,” and blasted the decision as “deviant behavior from the highest office in the land.” It spurred state and city governments to pledge that they will continue to battle the effects of climate change, in spite of the president’s action.
Almost immediately, Gov. Brown reached out to Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to form the U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the goals of the Paris Accord.
The three states already belong to an emissions reduction pact of states and cities worldwide. The governors’ action made a direct stand against the Trump administration. The governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia are interested in joining the new pact.
“We governors are going to step into this cockpit and fly the plane,” Gov. Inslee told reporters. “The president wants to ground it—we’re going to fly it.”
California enacted a cap-and-trade policy in January 2013 as a critical component in the state’s broader strategy to reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Cap-and-trade sets a clear limit on emissions. It minimizes the total cost to emitters and helps achieve reduction goals of carbon emissions. Overall emissions limits are translated into a system of allowances that polluters are given for free or buy in the market. Polluters must have sufficient allowances to cover their actual carbon emissions during the compliance period or face penalties. The number of allowances in the market decreases over time.
The current cap-and-trade policy in California expires in 2020. Gov. Brown wants to renew the existing policy. Some members of the state Senate want bolder action. Sens. Bob Wieckowski and Kevin De Leon have introduced SB 775, which keeps the existing cap-and-trade program intact but adjusts the carbon pricing mechanism so that the fee per ton of CO2 emissions rises annually. It also includes a state-level border adjustment to protect California businesses from competitors who aren’t subject to carbon fees.
The provision for a state-level border adjustment in SB 775 could face legal challenges. The bill’s authors believe that this provision does not violate the Commerce Clause of our Constitution, which grants power to regulate interstate commerce to the federal government. If the courts determine that provision falls under the Commerce Clause, the state would offer free allowances to California emitters who are vulnerable to interstate competition.
Most of the net fees are rebated on an equal, per-capita share to Californians with Social Security numbers. Some funds will be used to continue existing clean energy projects. The supporters of a CFD policy and SB 775 hope that these changes will make the policy more attractive to conservatives, who prefer market-based solutions rather than regulatory ones. SB 775 has some CFD features that make it more robust than a cap-and-trade policy. SB 775 makes it more likely that California will meet its ambitious goals of cutting carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.
Now is the time to stand up for clean, renewable energy and our planet. There is no planet B.
Once again, California is leading the nation in innovative solutions to combat climate change. Tell our state senator, Hannah-Beth Jackson, and our state representative, Jordan Cunningham, that they must support Senate Bill 775. It is an idea whose time has come!
Elizabeth Schneider is a resident of Santa Maria and a volunteer for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Send your thoughts to [email protected].