Jim Tolbert: Let’s drive energy innovation with a carbon price
February 10, 2019
Innovation drives U.S. prosperity and economic growth. During my career helping chemical and oil and gas companies address contamination, I saw innovation transform the way we manage and investigate contaminated sediment, soil and groundwater. These innovations made our natural resources cleaner, made our environment healthier for people, and reduced the cost of the cleanups.
Innovation is happening in the energy markets, too. I would like to see that innovation continue, with a particular focus on quickly and deeply reducing carbon emissions. I am encouraged to see lawmakers in Congress put forward the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. It's a solution to drive innovation, put our country at the forefront of the clean energy transition, and keep Americans healthier and safer. Cosponsored by Republican Representative Francis Rooney (FL-19) along with Democrats from Florida, California, and Illinois, the bill would put a price on carbon pollution. This price on pollution is a major market signal to stimulate the innovation we need.
The revenue from the carbon price will be allocated to Americans in equal monthly dividends, instead of being used by the government. Expert economists who served Presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43, including Alan Greenspan, Gregory Mankiw and Ben Bernanke, recently came out in favor of this approach. They, and dozens of other economists, signed a letter in the Wall Street Journal calling for a national carbon fee and dividend policy.
In addition to being cost-effective and driving innovation, the letter said, "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." When hard-working Americans receive the monthly carbon dividend, they will spend it right in their communities however they want to — they might buy their kids new shoes, or schedule a dentist appointment they've been putting off. That increased economic activity will increase demand for local jobs across America, supporting communities and families as our country transitions to a clean energy economy.
It's high time to make that transition, and to take responsibility for the health, economic and environmental issues caused by carbon emissions. Wildfires on the West Coast broke records last year, causing billions in damages, killing at least 85 people, and causing negative health impacts to millions more who had to breathe polluted air. The brave firefighters in the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection had to contend with nearly double the acreage burning in 2018, compared with 2017. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, "Going forward, we need to look at some of the underlying causes of these fires." Our carbon emissions, which are increasing temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, are a major underlying cause.
On the East Coast, Hurricane Florence dumped historic amounts of rain, including on my home state of North Carolina. Warmer water and warmer air contributed to those devastating conditions, which caused 53 deaths. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released by the Trump administration last fall, made it clear that extreme weather events like these are driven by changes in our climate, and they're only getting worse. Republican Senator Thom Tillis from North Carolina heeded that warning and called for solutions, tweeting, "The 4th National Climate Assessment report serves as a glaring reminder of the long-term risks of climate change. Both parties need to work together to deploy an innovative, market-driven strategy to combat the impacts of climate change."
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As Sen. Tillis called for, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is an innovative, market-driven policy. With this steadily rising carbon price in place, major companies from Duke Energy to Ford Motor will be better able to predict future costs, and they will be motivated to invest in cleaner, cutting-edge technologies.
Less carbon pollution, a robust economy, and many lives saved: we can enjoy these benefits if Congress implements a carbon price and unleashes the innovation of American companies. What's right for businesses' balance sheets will be right for the climate, too.
Jim Tolbert is Conservative Outreach Director for Citizens' Climate Lobby.