Just thinking about our increasingly warming planet used to drive my blood pressure up and my mood crashing down. Tired of feeling totally powerless, I joined the Rochester chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, an international, nonprofit, nonpartisan grassroots advocacy organization focused on building relationships with politicians to influence climate policy. CCL’s focus is the U.S. adoption of a carbon fee and dividend policy, a market-based mechanism to reduce the carbon emissions driving climate change.
So, I was greatly encouraged to learn at my first local CCL meeting that a groundbreaking carbon fee and dividend bill has not only been introduced in Congress but also has bipartisan support. It’s called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, and will dramatically reduce the damage caused by global warming—without wrecking our economy. The act was introduced into both the House and Senate last year with Republican and Democratic sponsors and was reintroduced this January as H.R. 763.
Here’s how the EICDA works: It places a fee on fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and gas. The fee starts low, at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, and grows by $10 (adjusted for inflation) per ton each year. The annual increase will become $15 per ton starting in 2025 if specific emission targets have not yet been met. This carbon fee, if passed, is predicted to cut levels of U.S. carbon emissions by 40 percent within 12 years and 90 percent by 2050.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a “carbon footprint” estimator for public use. If you are an RG&E customer, you can find your account online and view your energy use on the “Billing” tab. Use this information at the EPA website to estimate your carbon footprint.
What’s my carbon footprint?
My carbon footprint is about 25,000 pounds. Multiply by 0.000453592 to get metric tons, 11.7 metric tons in my case. The carbon fee for me would be about $171. I wouldn’t get a bill—the fee would be incorporated into my utility bills and at the gas pump. If my carbon footprint is higher than the national average, then my dividend would be less than what I would pay. If I had a lower carbon footprint than the national average, I would get more back than the fee paid. The fee would reward better environmental stewardship, which is the point.
As an experiment, I checked to see what my carbon emissions would be in a community that generates electricity from coal. My annual carbon emissions from electricity would rise from 1.7 metric tons to 4.6 metric tons.
The fee will drive down carbon pollution as energy companies, leading industries, and American consumers are encouraged to move toward cleaner, cheaper options. EICDA will accelerate use of existing clean energy sources and assumes there will be many new inventions as the market encourages new ways of generating and using energy.
The money collected from the carbon fee, minus 2 percent for costs of administration, will be returned every month in equal shares to the American people—that’s the dividend. A household will receive an equal dividend share for each adult and a half share for each child. A 2014 study of a similar plan by the respected independent firm Regional Economic Models Inc. showed that most households, especially those in the middle and lower classes, would break even or come out ahead, with the dividend at least covering their increased costs caused by the fee. The REMI study also predicted a higher GDP, more jobs, and a reduction of thousands of deaths annually from pollution-related illnesses such as asthma.
Will the carbon fee place U.S. manufacturers at a disadvantage?
No, because goods imported from a country without a similar fee will be charged a border carbon adjustment, and goods exported from the United States will receive a refund.
Most of the world’s nations have previously committed to carbon reduction in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and some (especially in Europe) have already reduced their emissions more than the U.S. has. Others are now hesitating as they wonder whether America will keep its commitments. The EICDA will help convince other nations to continue on their own carbon reduction paths.
Here’s what Mark Reynolds, executive director of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, has to say: “Polling shows that more and more Americans are making the connection between climate change and disasters that claim lives and property. As public pressure increases for Congress to take action, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act provides a solution that is both effective and family friendly.”
Am I still worried sick about climate change? Of course. But the Energy Innovation Act is an achievable, measured solution to one of the gravest dangers the human race has ever faced.
Donna Jackel is a former Democrat and Chronicle reporter and freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the Progressive, Re-Wire, Narratively, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Bark, Next Avenue, the Chicago Tribune and other publications.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby of Rochester was founded in 2013 and has been working to build political will for carbon fee and dividend in our area ever since. CCL ROC meets on the third Monday of every month. All are invited to attend. For more information about the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act or the CCL, contact [email protected].