First Priority of New Congress Should be a Carbon Tax
We made it. We got through one of the most unique presidential elections ever seen in the 20th century, and definitely in my (26 year) lifetime. I’m a millennial. While watching the media coverage of this election, I’ve struggled to see the light at the end of the political tunnel. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to see come from this contentious election, and what could begin to bring the American political system, at the very least, back from the brink of collapse and unite us around some actual good.
Congress should pass a revenue neutral carbon tax as its first order of business.
A tax may not seem like the easiest way to bring people to the table after all we’ve just been through, but a revenue neutral carbon tax is unique. Revenue neutrality at the national level should appeal to Republicans because it doesn’t grow government but should also appeal to Democrats in that it demands an aggressively rising tax on carbon. As a millennial, I’m sick of seeing the rhetoric pushed that there is still something left to debate over whether the climate is changing and if humans are contributing to it. And I’m not alone. According to a recent Gallup poll, over 65% of Americans believe that humans are causing climate change, including three out of four millennials. I’m ready for some actual solutions to be discussed by both sides of the aisle. I truly believe there is a solution that can be achieved from the ideas of both conservatives and liberals on this issue.
Our new Congress should take the lead of the Republicans and Democrats who have stepped out on this issue through the House Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and work on legislation that will meaningfully impact our economy. A revenue neutral carbon tax hits at the very core of what is wrong with our current energy system. Dirty fossil fuels are artificially cheaper than renewables and clean energy options and because of this, we pay for the costs of carbon pollution rather than those doing the polluting. By leveeing a carbon tax on the carbon content of each of the different fuels, we make the market fair, and let the correct, clean and truly cheap fuels rise up.
Not only does a revenue neutral carbon tax positively change our economy for the better, it has the potential to positively change our political landscape as well. What would it say about our new Congress if their first act was to pass large, meaningful energy legislation that dealt with the incredibly dangerous risk climate change poses to our country and the world? We have committed to a worldwide agreement in Paris that leaves a gaping emissions gap, and the only way to address this is legislative action. And despite the rhetoric from President Elect Trump on whether the Paris Agreement will go on, the rest of the world will with or without us. We can choose to be the leaders in a carbon tax, or suffer the consequences of having other countries implement them on us. Most recently, Nicholas Sarkozy, running for President of France has threatened to put a carbon tax on American imports.
We could have a real, solutions based conversation at the highest level, with conservative voices arguing that corporate tax swaps are the best way to use carbon revenues, and progressive liberals arguing that reinvestment into green energy and low income communities hardest hit is the better use. And perhaps somewhere in there lies a solution and a compromise, which used to be a word that was lauded rather than disgusted. One such solution is a dividend check returned to all Americans, but certainly there are a variety of hybrid combined solutions that could appease both sides.
Whatever the outcome of revenue use is, the real need is for a genuine discussion to take place. The climate issue has been partisan for far too long, and there is too much at risk to waste the next 4 years debating the science while the rest of the world moves forward into the new clean energy economy. My generation, who will be leading the charge on issues for the next fifty years, doesn’t see a debate on climate science. We see a debate on the way to solve it. And the desire for solutions and American leadership on this issue in particular is being yearned for now, more than ever.
Let climate and a clean energy economy be the place where bipartisanship begins in our new Congress, and let the bipartisan solutions spread beyond that to help our country begin to heal.
Stephanie Doyle is a Fall 2016 Fellow with the Clean Energy Leadership Institute, and an Outreach Liaison & Legislative Associate at the Citizens' Climate Lobby.