I and many others in Maine respect the fact that Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King voted against nominees for Environmental Protection Agency administrators whose actions do nothing to protect the environment, and who deny the existential threat of climate change

However, we need them to take heed of the good news — that 3,500 economists of all stripes and from all over the world signed a letter supporting a carbon tax and dividend system to fight climate change.

Global climate change is a serious problem calling for immediate national action,” the letter read. “Guided by sound economic principles, we are united in the following policy recommendations.

“I. A carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary. By correcting a well-known market failure, a carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future.

“II. A carbon tax should increase every year until emissions reductions goals are met and be revenue neutral to avoid debates over the size of government. A consistently rising carbon price will encourage technological innovation and large-scale infrastructure development. It will also accelerate the diffusion of carbon-efficient goods and services.

“III. A sufficiently robust and gradually rising carbon tax will replace the need for various carbon regulations that are less efficient. Substituting a price signal for cumbersome regulations will promote economic growth and provide the regulatory certainty companies need for long- term investment in clean-energy alternatives.

“IV. To prevent carbon leakage and to protect U.S. competitiveness, a border carbon adjustment system should be established. This system would enhance the competitiveness of American firms that are more energy-efficient than their global competitors. It would also create an incentive for other nations to adopt similar carbon pricing.

“V. To maximize the fairness and political viability of a rising carbon tax, all the revenue should be returned directly to U.S. citizens through equal lump-sum rebates. The majority of American families, including the most vulnerable, will benefit financially by receiving more in “carbon dividends” than they pay in increased energy prices.

Such an economic plan to combat climate change has recently been introduced in the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.

When enacted it will have many benefits. It is, for instance, revenue neutral, and will not increase the size of government. It will be effective in reducing emissions, estimated as 80 percent by 2030. It will be good for people, not only in balancing the budgets of most lower-income families, but good for their health also. It will be good for the economy, encouraging U.S. innovation in clean energy technology that the whole world wants, while also by adding an estimated total of 2.1 million new jobs. No other comprehensive proposal has emerged. 

Findings from the 2017 Government Accountability Office report on the increasing costs of recovery from catastrophic weather events, called for by Sen. Collins, spelled out that the increasing cost now annually approaches half of the military budget. Then, according to the several branches of our military, climate change is a threat multiplier. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, and the 4th National Climate Assessment both paint a picture of climate change approaching emergency status requiring concerted action

“The market” as it now operates is not a free market as it does not include a price on the disposal of waste; in this case the release of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide from emissions and methane from leaks in the natural gas system. Instead, it has been characterized by Sir Nicholas Stern as “the greatest market failure in history, because the price we pay for products and services that involve emissions of greenhouse gases does not reflect the costs they cause through damage to the climate.”

In short, we need the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act to be introduced in the Senate, too, on a bipartisan basis, then debated and enacted. We trust that Sens. Collins and King will take a lead on this effort, especially as they have already done so in the past.

 

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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