Environmental advocates are working on new policy to lower the nation’s carbon emissions, and it should sound familiar to Alaskans: Paying citizens a dividend.
Barbara Bingham, a Sitka resident and member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, described the details of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce last week (4-3-19).
It’s called a bipartisan act, but so far only one Republican member of the US House of Representatives has agreed to co-sponsor House Resolution 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.
The other 27 sponsors are Democrats.
Nevertheless, the bill has attracted more Republican interest in past versions, and Barbara Bingham and other members of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby believe it will again, even though some aspects of the legislation target top areas of Republican support.
“The policy puts a fee on the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas,” Bingham explained. “It starts out low, and increases over time. This will drive down carbon pollution because energy companies, leading industries, and American consumers will move toward cleaner, cheaper options. The steadily rising carbon fee is applied to coal, oil, and gas in proportion to the CO2 output of the fuel. The fee is applied as far upstream as possible for domestic production, and at the ports for imports, utilizing existing measuring facilities.”
The Citizens’ Climate Lobby would be the first to admit that there might be plenty of Democrats unwilling to sign on to legislation that significantly increases costs to energy producers and, then by default, to everyone who uses energy.
“So what I’ve described so far is basically a carbon tax,” said Bingham. “Carbon taxes have been controversial for two main reasons: One, they raise revenue for the government, and two) they are regressive, hurting low- and middle-income families.”
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act pivots on these problems, and Bingham claims, turns objections into solutions.
“The money collected from the carbon fee is allocated in equal shares every month to the American people to spend as they see fit,” she said, touching on what the CCL hopes both creates support for the legislation, and offsets its costs. “Program administrative costs are paid from the fees collected. The government does not keep any of the money from the carbon fee. Under this plan about two-thirds of all households would break even or come out ahead considering the higher cost of living.”
Like any major legislation, the devil is in the details. The Act has chapters that deal with economic stimulus and job growth, and limits on environmental regulation. This is where the Citizens’ Climate Lobby — itself a nonpartisan organization — hopes to gain traction with both parties in Congress.
Taking questions from the Chamber audience, Bingham addressed concerns that the act would harm the fishing fleet, a large consumer of fuel.
“That’s a concern,” Bingham said. “How do you protect that small businessperson. But every household will come out ahead, and the fact that we already have sustainable energy (i.e. hydropower) really does give us a boost. And the thing is, once we have this in place, it will drive innovation. There are so many things we haven’t thought about yet: Biofuels, hydrogen fuels, more efficient engines. There are ways to mitigate this, and it’s going to take some time, but the dividend will help a lot to overcome that.”
And what about the one-third of households that won’t benefit from the Act, and may find it to be an economic setback? Bingham says it boils down to lifestyle choices.
“The segment of the population that will not come out ahead are the affluent people with energy-rich lifestyles,” she said. “It’s not just the fuels that we’re using — it’s the energy and the carbon that goes into our products, the things that we use: Appliances, clothes, all of that stuff. The more of those things that you own in your life, the higher your carbon footprint. The simpler your life, the lower your carbon footprint.”
Bingham and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby are pushing the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act with renewed energy, following a recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that states that there is a 12-year window for industrialized countries to reduce carbon emissions by one-half, before causing irreversible effects on the global climate.
Bingham is one of five Alaskans who will travel to Washington D.C. in June to advocate for the Act. They hope to take endorsements from 300 Alaska businesses and residents.