In Focus: Reduce emissions and grow the economy

July 12, 2014 

On May 6, the Obama administration released the Third National Climate Assessment. The findings were consistent with the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report. The reports provide compelling justification for undertaking a serious effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to do so urgently. President Obama announced a series of executive actions last year to “reduce carbon pollution, prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change and lead international efforts to address global climate change.” On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency, under the president’s authority, proposed the Clean Power Plan, aimed at cutting carbon pollution from existing power plants by up to 30 percent from 2005 emissions, to be accomplished by 2030. The EPA also proposed strict emissions standards for new fossil fuel-fired power plants. The EPA’s proposed plan offers states wide latitude in how they go about meeting the goals of the program. States can develop multi-state plans or go it alone. The EPA will issue its final guidelines by June 2015, and states must submit their plans to the EPA by June 2016. Many states have already instituted some sort of emissions reduction plan, including a number of multi-state initiatives, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which ties together nine northeastern states in a cap and trade program. Washington and several other western states, along with British Columbia and Quebec, formed the Western Climate Initiative. But every U.S. state except California subsequently dropped from the WCI because of changes in their political landscapes. In April, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order outlining a series of steps to reduce Washington’s carbon pollution and increase its use of clean energy. Inslee, pointing to what he sees as the success of the RGGI, favors a cap and trade program as a means of limiting emissions. Actually, RGGI’s success in reducing emissions is as much a result of the U.S. recession and the conversion of power plants to natural gas as it is to cap and trade. The sad fact is that America’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in a hodgepodge of inconsistent and, in the larger sense, insufficient measures that will leave markets, manufacturers and consumers guessing about what’s coming next and how long it will last. The only way to tackle the problem of America’s greenhouse gas emissions is on the national level, through a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Congressional Republicans, and even some Demo-crats, have vehemently opposed carbon taxes, claiming that they are “job killers,” and will “devastate the economy.” The facts tell us something entirely different. A recent study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. showed that a revenue-neutral carbon tax, such as that proposed by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, would reduce emissions by 33 percent by 2025, add between 2 million and 3 million jobs, add up to $90 billion to the economy and enable America to transition from fossil fuels to a low-carbon energy economy. The study was strictly an analysis of fiscal policy, and therefore said nothing about the cost avoidance that would be achieved by mitigating the effects of global warming. The revenue-neutral carbon tax, or fee and dividend, idea has been endorsed by economists, think tanks, and numerous newspapers. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, now with the conservative Hoover Institution, and Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker wrote for the Wall Street Journal urging U.S. lawmakers to implement a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Former Republican congressman Bob Inglis of the Energy & Enterprise Initiative thinks Republicans can be brought around to support the revenue-neutral carbon tax idea. “We (just) have to be absolutely clear that we’re not trying to grow the size of government,” he said. And that’s exactly what revenue neutrality means. All revenues, 100 percent, go back to households under the Citizens’ Climate Lobby proposal. The bottom line is that we can reduce emissions in a simple, predictable way and grow the economy while doing so. There is every reason to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now we know that there are no good reasons not to. What’s stopping us? w Richard Badalamente is a writer and member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. He lives in Kennewick.

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