PD Editorial: Congress can still deliver on carbon emissions

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

A record 76% of Americans believe climate change is happening, according to a new poll sponsored by Yale and George Mason universities.

Sen. Joe Manchin says he counts himself among them, but the West Virginia Democrat’s actions don’t align with his words. He is, once again, putting coal and natural gas ahead of the clean energy sources needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, the most important plank of President Joe Biden’s climate change platform — rapid expansion of carbon-free solar, wind and nuclear energy — is likely to be written out of the budget reconciliation bill now pending in Congress, the New York Times reported.

Scrapping the $150 billion clean-electricity program would undermine Biden’s pledge that the U.S. will reduce its carbon emissions 50% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Doing so two weeks before the United Nations convenes its climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland would send a signal to the rest of the world that, even after climate change denier Donald Trump left the White House, the U.S. isn’t serious about fighting a leading threat to life on Earth.

Americans — and everyone else on the planet — are experiencing the impacts of accelerating climate change — rising temperatures, massive fires, protracted droughts, calamitous storms. A U.N. report issued in August warned of an even bleaker future unless nations start reducing fossil-fuel emissions.

Inaction is no longer an option.

There is a strategy that promises to reduce emissions, promote new technologies and put money in people’s pockets to offset the cost. Believe it or not, there is bipartisan support and, just as climate denialism is fading away, so is opposition from the energy sector.

The strategy is called carbon fee and dividend. We first wrote about it six years ago.

Here’s how it would work: Fossil fuel companies would be required to pay a fee — a tax — on the carbon content of the fuels they extract. The fee would steadily increase, creating an incentive to expand production of solar, wind and other clean sources of energy.

It is similar to California’s cap-and-trade system, with one big difference: the government doesn’t keep the money.

To ease the blow for consumers, revenue from the carbon fee would be returned in the form of rebates to U.S. households. They could use the dividend to offset higher energy costs, purchase solar panels or for any other purpose.

Canada adopted a fee-and-

dividend plan two years ago, and its opponents failed to unseat the government in this year’s election.

A grassroots group called the Citizens Climate Lobby has been campaigning for the fee-and-dividend approach in the United States. Along the way, they enlisted allies ranging from economists to political figures from both major parties to business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This year, they picked up support from the American Petroleum Institute.

There also is growing support in Congress, including California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, confirmed his support of fee and dividend on Monday.

And now there is a window of opportunity: the high-stakes budget bill now awaiting action in the House and Senate.

A fee-and-dividend system would complement Biden’s clean-electricity plan, which rewards utilities for switching from burning fossil fuels to using renewable energy. If the president’s plan is scuttled by Manchin’s opposition, fee-and-dividend could stand on its own, promoting cleaner energy and taming a threat to human survival.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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