Citizens’ Climate Lobby gearing up for national legislative initiative

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

“Obviously the environment isn’t going to take care of itself,” said Woodstock resident Rachelle Gura. “Expert reports in newspapers say climate change is happening faster than we thought, and it’s worse than we thought, with extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and increasingly heavy downpours creating inland flooding and coastal flooding. Like a lot of people, I’ve been feeling anxious and powerless.”

Gura’s reaction was to join the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a national non-profit that has helped write a bipartisan bill designed to drive down America’s carbon pollution by putting a price on carbon emissions and returning the revenue equally to people. CCL is now dedicated to mobilizing Americans to urge the passage of the legislation, and Gura wants to involve Ulster County residents to help get the word out. 

Members of CCL have been working with congressional representatives across the country, discussing legislation they’d like to see. At the end of November, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by three Republican and three Democratic congressmen. (It will have to be reintroduced in 2019, probably under a different name.)  

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The bill would put a fee on all oil, gas, and coal used in the United States, to be paid by companies based on the greenhouse gas emissions they produce. The fee starts low at $15 per ton of CO2 and grows steadily, increasing $10 per ton annually, giving businesses time to adjust and make investments for the future. This provision will make clean energy cheaper and more attractive than dirty, polluting energy, therefore driving down America’s emissions and slowing climate change. 

The money from the fee would be allocated equally and directly to people as a monthly rebate. Most American households will end up with more money in their pockets to spend as they see fit, which will help low- and middle-income Americans while stimulating the economy.

To protect U.S. manufacturers and jobs, goods imported from countries that do not have an equivalent carbon price will pay a border carbon adjustment. Goods exported from the United States to such countries will receive a refund under this policy.  

The CCL website includes a calculator to estimate the impact of both the carbon fee and the dividend for your specific household for the first year’s fee of $15/ton. As the fee goes up over the years, it will be more likely that a given household will be spending more in increased costs for fossil fuels than it will be receiving in the dividend. The gradual fee increase gives people some time to take measures like more fuel-efficient cars and insulation, to bring the cost of the carbon fee down. More significantly, it gives industry and utilities time to become more fuel efficient and use more renewable energy. 

A study by economist Noah Kaufman of Columbia University indicates that by 2030, this type of policy would reduce CO2 emissions 45 percent below 2015 levels. CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds stated, “This bill is easily the most significant congressional move on climate change since 2009. And with bipartisan sponsorship, it has a real chance at passage.”

All six of the bill’s current sponsors are members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives. The group was established in February 2016 by two Florida congressman, Republican Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Ted Deutch. By the time the 2018 midterm elections rolled around, membership had reached a count of 90.    

“We want the bill to be bipartisan,” said Gura. “It’s too important and too urgent to get bogged down in party politics. We don’t want to get it passed and then two years later, the Republicans come back and take it down.”

Uphill fight for passage

In an August 2018 nationwide poll by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 68 percent of respondents said they would support this type of revenue-neutral carbon tax. Only 29 percent were opposed. Organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy have already endorsed the bill. Nevertheless, with the narrative of climate change skepticism driving the Administration’s policies, Gura expects there will be an uphill battle to get the legislation passed. 

CCL is organizing citizens to take actions such as writing to their congressional reps and setting up information tables at events. “People can get involved by joining online,” explained Gura. “They’ll get emails saying when are the important days to call congresspeople, and notifying them about meetings. The first step is to get people to sign up.”

A Columbia County chapter of CCL meets monthly at Bard College, and there are chapters in Dutchess County. Gura would like to bring in more Ulster County residents. “Lobbying should be done by regular people for what we want, not by big interests that pay lobbyists,” she said. “It’s a very focused organization. We’re not working on a dozen things at once. Getting this kind of fee put on carbon is the best first solution and will take the biggest chunk out of climate change the fastest. Once this is passed, we will go on to what else can be done.”

For more information, go to https://citizensclimatelobby.org, where you can join CCL for free to receive email updates. You can take part by calling and writing to congressional representatives from home. You can also join your local chapter and get more involved by tabling at events, making presentations, lobbying Congress, etc. The local chapter for Ulster and Dutchess Counties is headed up by Laurie Husted, who may be contacted for more information at lauriehusted@gmail.com. To read about the proposed legislation and get updates on the bill, go to https://energyinnovationact.org.