Earth Day arrives this year with serious questions about America’s commitment to preserve a clean environment and limit the risks posed by climate change. That’s because, on March 28, President Trump signed an executive order to start the process of dismantling several initiatives under the Obama administration to reduce pollution that drives climate change, pollution that also affects the air we breathe and the water we drink.
These initiatives became necessary when Congress failed in 2010 to enact legislation to price carbon. When control of the House of Representatives shifted to Republicans in 2011, efforts to legislate climate solutions came to a screeching halt. Faced with numerous impacts from climate change — rising seas, warmer temperatures, more severe weather, wildfires, health risks — Obama took several steps to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions under the Climate Action Plan.
The most important of these steps was the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants by 32 percent by 2030. The CPP became an essential element in the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accord, whereby America pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025.
Without the CPP, the U.S. is unlikely to meet its Paris commitment, a tremendous setback in global efforts to keep temperatures from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Crossing the “2C” threshold, scientists warn, will lead to catastrophic consequences that the world is ill-prepared to handle — food shortages, coastal flooding, epidemics, mass migrations, destabilized nations.
With the executive branch now shirking any responsibility to deal with climate change, Congress must step into the breach. America can meet its obligation — and then some — with a market-based solution that appeals to policymakers across the political spectrum: a steadily rising fee on carbon with revenue returned to households.
Known as Carbon Fee and Dividend, the policy would assess a fee on the carbon dioxide content of fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — at or near the first point of sale. The fee would start at $15 per ton of CO2 and increase $10 per ton each year, sending a powerful signal to the marketplace that moves investments and behavior toward clean energy and efficiency. At the same time, revenue from the fee would be returned equally to all households, shielding families from the economic impact of the carbon fee, with many households actually coming out ahead.
A study released in 2014 by Regional Economic Models, Inc. examined this proposal to determine its environmental and economic impact over a 20-year period. The REMI study found that, after 20 years, the policy would cut CO2 emissions by half. In a finding that shatters the myth that carbon pricing would destroy the economy, the study showed that Carbon Fee and Dividend would add 2.8 million jobs.
A similar plan was proposed in…