A bill to combat the effects of climate change introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year was the subject of a Rotary Club of Sandy Springs presentation on Nov. 18.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 (H.R. 763) proposes a fee on fossil fuels at sources, such as wells and ports, with the money being distributed to each citizen as a dividend to spend however they like. The idea is to tax carbon emissions at their source to promote innovation of clean energy technology and reduce greenhouse gasses.
The bill is largely based on a motion of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which describes itself as a grassroots advocacy organization focused on national climate change policies, and was represented at the Rotary luncheon by guest speaker Donna Melcher.
“Climate change is considered a threat-multiplier,” said Melcher. “Things that were already problems are becoming worse due to climate change – whether it’s farmers who can’t sustain their farms because of drought, or people who are disadvantaged and are running from severe weather events, or disease that’s spreading because temperatures are hotter. Those who are least able to adapt to a changing climate are the ones that are most impacted.”
Many of the effects of global warming will be felt in the Southeastern United States “because of our coastal areas,” she said, adding that between $38.2 billion and $68.7 billion worth of coastal property will be under the sea by the year 2050.
“It’s something we need to pay attention to,” Melcher said. “There is 97% agreement among scientists that greenhouse gasses are mostly caused by humans. It’s serious.”
Rotary International has been increasingly active of late regarding climate change, Melcher noted, with programs in place on family planning, young girls’ education and regenerative agriculture, among others.
“The carbon fee and dividend plan has gotten a lot of people excited and is getting bipartisan support because it’s good for the environment, the economy and for people, and it’s healthy for the planet. It’s revenue neutral too which means it doesn’t grow the government,” she said. That bipartisan support is not readily apparent, however, with U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida being the sole non-Democrat listed in Congressional records as a co-sponsor of H.R. 763.
Melcher said that members of Congress from Georgia who support it include Rep. Lucy McBath of the local 6th District and Rep. Sanford Bishop of the 2nd District of the Columbus and Macon areas.
The proposed carbon fee for the first year would be $15 per metric ton of carbon-dioxide-equivalent. The fee increases by $10 per ton each year ($15 if emission targets are not met) and the fee ceases when emissions reach 10 percent of 2016 levels.
According to the official description of the bill, the money collected from the carbon fee would be allocated in equal shares monthly to citizens to spend as they see fit. Program costs are paid from the fees collected, and the Department of the Treasury does not keep any of the funds other than administration costs. Melcher suggested dividend recipients could use the money “to defray energy costs, or they can use it to reduce their carbon footprint, or buy a new energy-efficient car. Whatever they want; it’s their choice.”
The concept of the plan is to give a stable signal to the market that the cost of carbon is going to include all its other factors, including the cost of pollution, thus spurring innovation in the clean energy field. Under the policy, goods imported into the United States would be assessed a border carbon adjustment, and exported goods would receive a refund. Military and agricultural use of carbon is exempted from the plan.
The Citizens’ Climate Lobby estimates 114,000 lives are lost annually in this country due to air pollution, and that 295,000 lives would be saved through 2030 with improved air quality.
An attendee at the Rotary event questioned Melcher about the detrimental effects the bill could have on the fossil fuel industry. She responded that Exxon, British Petroleum and Shell Oil have all expressed support for the initiative.
Another member was skeptical about the model and didn’t see how the government could be trusted to implement it correctly. “The reason it’s going through the Treasury [Department] is so we can use existing channels for distributing checks properly,” Melcher replied. “British Columbia [in Canada] has had this type of program for about 10 years, quite successfully. It’s had a dramatic impact on emissions.”
The North Atlanta Chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby meets every third Thursday of the month at 6:45 p.m. at the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, 4055 Roswell Road in Buckhead.
–Kevin C. Madigan