Shared from the 10/10/2019 San Antonio Express eEdition

Fee-dividend climate plan right balance


A carbon fee-anddividend program would make electricity from coal-fired power plants more expensive, but the dividend would offset costs for consumers. Associated Press file photo

How to solve the political paradox of climate change?

While most Americans accept that man-made climate change is real, they are divided about what to do in response to it and how urgently to take action.

Recent polling from the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation found nearly 8 in 10 Americans agree human activity is changing the Earth’s climate. And the majority of Americans — about two-thirds — would like to see the federal government do more to mitigate climate change. In terms of public opinion, this suggests the debate about climate change has been settled.

The real debate is about what to do — and who will bear the responsibility for necessary change. Only half the respondents believed climate change should be urgently addressed over the coming decade — a significant increase compared with just years ago, but still low for something that scientists have repeatedly characterized as an existential threat.

Likewise, half of adults responding to the poll said they would be willing to pay $2 a month more on their electric bills to address climate change, the Post reported. But 75 percent of respondents balked at the idea of paying $10 a month. And while the majority of respondents support fuel-efficiency standards, they also oppose increasing federal and gas taxes, which haven’t been raised in a generation. In short, the vast majority of Americans are concerned about climate change and want something to be done, but many people don’t want to pay for addressing it.

But climate change will come at a cost — with or without action. That’s especially so in Texas. And we see great bipartisan potential in the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, or HR 763, which has been championed by the Citizens Climate Lobby. This piece of legislation relies on market forces to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and its fee-and-dividend structure would help to insulate Americans from rising carbon costs.

Before you dash off your letters to the editor (which we welcome, always), here are the basics: This legislation would create a carbon fee of $15 per metric ton. This fee, which would include exemptions for the military and agriculture, would be placed at the source of emissions, and it would increase $10 a year, reaching $100 per metric ton in the coming decade.

Obviously, such a fee would raise the cost of doing business. Gas would be more expensive. So would electricity from coal-fired power plants. But the monthly dividend would help ease this pain. The bill would also pause EPA regulations on carbon dioxide emissions as long as reduction targets are being met.

There is much to like about this legislation. Its market-based approach should satisfy those who fear burdensome regulations, but its emissions reductions targets, with the potential backstop of additional regulation, should hearten those who fear the worst effects of unmitigated climate change. And the dividend would help insulate Americans from taking an economic hit.

It’s for these reasons we endorsed a similar fee and dividend proposal in 2017 from the Climate Leadership Council, which has the backing of former Treasury Secretaries James Baker III, Henry Paulson Jr. and George P. Shultz, who is also a former secretary of state.

A fee-and-dividend program is not perfect — it could be assailed as a tax or an inadequate substitute for regulation and thus faces long political odds — but it is a starting point for action at a politically polarized moment.

In a unanimous statement, Texas A&M University’s Atmospheric Sciences Department says, “It is extremely likely that humans are responsible for more than half of the global warming between 1951 and 2012.”

That statement goes on to warn that if nothing is done to curb emissions, the Earth’s temperature will rise by as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

A carbon fee-and-dividend program offers a much-needed middle way to avoid climate calamity.

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