Thanks are due to the Maine congressional delegation for their clear thinking on energy and climate issues.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, co-authored the CLEAR Act in 2009. If passed, it would have put a rising price on carbon fuels, returning most revenues to households. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, has been a strong proponent of renewable energy throughout his career.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, understands the potential devastating effect of the warming waters of the Gulf of Maine on our lobster harvest, following the termination of the shrimp fishery, as well as lobster fisheries in states south of us. Her new colleague, Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, is similarly informed and prepared on environmental issues.

So now it is surely time for our congressional delegation to take the lead on the climate issue.

Congress has already made a good start, with the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, introduced on a bipartisan basis in both House (H.R.7173) and Senate (S.3791). Having been introduced into the recent lame-duck session, they will need to be reintroduced this year.

Both bills introduce the concept of a rising fee on carbon fuels, which will provide an economic incentive to speed the transition to renewable energy throughout the economy. All revenues, minus a few percent for administration, would be returned as an equal monthly dividend to every adult, regardless of their carbon footprint, with half shares for children. That way, household budgets of almost everyone with low income would not be broken by rising prices.

Political conservatives state that “market forces” are sufficient for the transition. However, the “free market” does not now exist. Instead, governments give trillions of dollars in subsidies and incentives to fossil fuel industries, amounting to an estimated 6.5 percent of global GDP. Yet these are some of the world’s most profitable businesses, distorting the fact that renewable energy is now becoming cheaper than fossil fuels.

The costs of burning carbon fuels is “externalized,” meaning that everyone pays for the pollution, whether involved or not. For instance, air pollution from burning gasoline, coal and oil includes poisonous gases that cause asthma and COPD. That’s a cost for people and for health insurance premiums.

Even if carbon dioxide, the principal cause of climate change, were the only pollutant, the costs are already enormous and growing. In a speech on the Senate floor in October 2017, Sen. Collins noted that the cost to the federal government of recovery from larger than normal hurricanes, floods and wildfires in that year exceeded $300 billion. Predictions are that costs would exceed $1 trillion per year within the foreseeable future. That figure does not include the costs to affected individuals, including those rendered homeless.

Imposing a fee on carbon fuels and returning that fee equally to U.S. residents is supported by conservative economists and Republican politicians in the Climate Leadership Council. It is surely what is needed to correct the market distortion caused by fossil fuel corporations failing to pay for the cost of their pollution.

Economic modeling of the policy shows that it will be effective, reducing America’s emissions by at least 40 percent within 12 years. It will be good for people, in that it will improve health, save lives and put money directly into their pockets every month to spend as they see fit, not leaving it to the government to choose winners and losers.

Furthermore, this policy will build the economy, creating 2.1 million additional jobs in 10 years, thanks to growth in the clean energy economy. The rising fee on fossil fuels will give an extra financial boost to both energy innovation and the installation of alternative renewable energy sources, given a market less distorted by subsidies.

By failing to act, national security will be increasingly compromised by climate change, as Sen. King has pointed out repeatedly. At home, rising sea levels burden naval bases. Climate change — increasing drought — is what led to the war in Syria and the disastrous migration to Europe, and droughts like this are now affecting other nations in Africa and the Middle East, adding to worldwide terrorism.

I urge our congressional team of four to study the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act and participate in its bipartisan reintroduction in the 116th Congress.

Peter Garrett, of Winslow, is a member of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Public Policy Team. He also serves on the Sustain Mid Maine board of directors and is the state of Maine coordinator of Citizens Climate Lobby.

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