Mark Reynolds & Deirdre Henderson: Climate is on the agenda this year, a carbon tax should be too

A few weeks into the new administration, the federal government is off to a roaring start on climate change. Democrats have indicated climate change is a priority issue they intend to tackle. President Biden signed a raft of executive orders related to climate change, elevating the issue across the federal government. Senate Majority leader Schumer directed all relevant Senate committees to begin holding hearings on climate. And Speaker of the House Pelosi, no stranger to the fight for climate legislation, is ready for round two.

Republicans, too, know their constituents are struggling with the impacts of climate change, and their younger voters in particular are eager for representation in this national discussion. Conservative Republican Congressman and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA 23) has warned his party of the dangers of denying climate change. “We’ve got to do something different than we’ve done today,” he said in a 2020 interview. “What if we show that we can solve it?” McCarthy suggested. There’s no question of congressional climate action this year — it must happen.

As Senators Feinstein and Padilla and Representative McClintock and their colleagues in Congress evaluate policy options, they should consider the broadly popular carbon tax or fee. A carbon tax can quickly slash our emissions and save lives — plus, when designed right, it can actually pay people and benefit American business. Endorsements from the scientific community, health organizations, economists, and businesses show that this is the consensus solution. Let’s explore why.

As we all understand by now, it’s imperative that the world reaches net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That target comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s game-changing 2018 report. In that same report, the IPCC specified that “carbon pricing is a necessary condition of ambitious climate policies.” A steadily rising carbon tax could slash emissions enough to reach the net-zero by 2050 target. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reinforced that message in a new report, naming a carbon tax as one of the solutions to reach net-zero. Scientists are committed to solving this problem, so they’re throwing support behind the most effective solution available.

Deep emissions cuts will not only help the climate but will also be a huge boon to public health. We could save 4.5 million American lives over the next 50 years by replacing pollution with clean air. That’s why the highly respected Lancet Commission endorses carbon pricing, calling it “the single most powerful strategic instrument to inoculate human health against the risks of climate change.”

In addition to health benefits, a carbon tax can provide economic benefits to Americans. A fee and dividend structure will actually put the carbon fee revenue into people’s pockets to spend as they see fit. If these payments are monthly, as in the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, 85% of Americans come out ahead or essentially break even. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is a longtime supporter of this approach. She affirmed in her January confirmation process that she is “fully supportive of effective carbon pricing,” adding, “I know that the President is as well.”

A carbon tax is better for business, too. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently announced its support of a “market-based approach to accelerate emissions reductions.” A carbon tax is considered a market-based approach, giving businesses the ultimate say on how they shift to clean energy. It is far more predictable and durable than regulations, which can change with the stroke of a new President’s pen. A carbon tax paired is with a monthly carbon dividend to American households in the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, and many area businesses, including Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows and its parent company Alterra, Boreal Mountain, Fifty-Fifty Brewing, Alibi Beer, Jones Snowboards, Pacific Crest Coffee, and Big Truck, among many others have endorsed this policy.

With scientists, public health professionals, economists, and businesses supporting a carbon tax, Congress should listen closely. Plus, the American people themselves expect results. Public polling shows 60% of people nationwide and 57% of people in our CA-4 congressional district want Congress to do more to address global warming. That desire defies partisanship among the American people, with majority support for climate action from Republican and Democratic voters. An effective carbon tax would fit the bill and put America on the fast track to a healthy, prosperous future.

Deirdre Henderson is a volunteer with the North Tahoe chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.


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