By The Rev. Barbara Schlachter
Life is full of missed opportunities, some of them with more consequences than others and some more obvious than others, even at the time of choice.
This week, the Congressional Energy and Power Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on a topic that has been recently ignored by the House of Representatives: climate change. One could hope that this will be a serious discussion of what appropriate action might be called for in the face of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. One can hope, but it is more likely that the hearing, titled “The Obama Administration’s Climate Change Policies and Activities,” will be an attack on the president’s announced plans to use his regulatory powers to work on this pressing issue in the light of Congress’ inability to provide a way forward.
A lot of energy will be expended by the Energy and Power Subcommittee, producing much heat and little light. If Congress is interested in doing something besides being reactive (an equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns), it could get busy and produce legislation that would address climate change in a way that would reduce the greenhouse gases that are contributing to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. This summer, levels reached 400 parts per million with a projected 600 million by the end of this century. The ideal level is 350.
One thing Congress could do that would help address this issue is to pass a revenue-neutral price on carbon — a fee and dividend program that would not increase taxes for the American people but would return income to them. Currently, fossil fuels do not pay for the cost of their damage to the environment and the health of people in this country. Also, as a result of climate change, extreme weather events become more frequent and severe with the cost of clean up and the loss of security becoming greater.
Citizens Climate Lobby, a national group dedicated to a carbon fee solution, recommends a tax that starts low, $15 per ton, and ramps up aggressively, adding $10 per year. This would help the market deal with the necessary shift of moving from a fossil fuel-based energy system to a renewable one. It is essentially an economically conservative way of dealing with our need to reduce carbon emissions.
There are economic experts who could be called upon to help Congress with this decision. They include Greg Mankiw, economic adviser to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney; and Gary Becker, Nobel laureate economist, to name two who endorse putting a fee on carbon.
Public opinion is beginning to shift toward this solution and newspapers around the country are starting to provide leadership for a fee on carbon. I wanted to list the 16 major newspapers who have provided editorial guidance on this matter, but I will settle for quoting a neighbor to the North, the Twin Cities Star Tribune from June of this year: “Bipartisan cooperation is still a long shot. But it’s critical in designing reforms to address other carbon pollution and to create the right economic incentives to transition the United States from fossil fuels to next-generation energy sources. Thoughtful conservatives such as former South Carolina Republican Representative Bob Ingliss, who heads a George Mason University energy policy think tank, have good ideas — especially the carbon tax — that merit serious consideration as future policy is crafted.”
We should know later this week if the hearing provided a start toward congressional leadership or if it missed another opportunity. Let Iowa Congressmen Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack know of your desire for them to help Congress step up to the plate on this one.
And I for one will be hopeful that The Gazette will do its part by adding its voice to the newspapers of the country supporting a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
The Rev. Barbara Schlachter of Iowa City is a member of Iowa Citizens Climate Advocates, Citizens Climate Lobby, and 100 Grannies for a Livable Future. Comments: email@example.com