The Green New Deal Is No Laughing Matter - Third Installment2/11/20
This last decade was the hottest recorded on the planet, according to NASA and NOAA. The United States accounts for 11 % of global greenhouse gas emissions and Australia accounts for 3% (coal production being their main fossil fuel). Horrendous wild fires have been burning beyond human control in two Australian provinces, burning 15 million acres early in the Australian fire season. Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull exclaims in a recent Time magazine: “There are no excuses and not much time left. Australia and the world need a Green New Deal now.”
In 2015 two dozen young people sued the US government to act more aggressively on climate change. On Friday, January 17, 2020, five years later, the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled 2 to1 that the young people did not have legal standing to sue. The Trump administration has declared climate change a hoax and is actively working on allowing more emissions.
The question remains how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before it is too late? Suddenly, big business has become interested. It was reported last week that BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, will make climate change and sustainability key parts of its investment strategy and sell off investments in fossil fuel companies. Microsoft is putting $1 billion into carbon-capture research. Bill Gates has become a leading investor in generation 4 nuclear technology (16% of US energy is today produced by nuclear which has no emissions, but other problems).
A State of Maryland wind energy project from 2013 was also in the news recently. The Maryland Wind Energy Area is located, at its closest point, about 10 nautical miles offshore of Ocean City and has the potential to support 850-1450 megawatts of wind generation. New, larger turbines existing today would mean fewer turbines. We must all help to support this project in Annapolis. For perspective, 42% of Denmark’s energy is wind energy generated by turbines in the North Sea off its coastal areas. At a distance, those turbines look very elegant.
In the US Congress some elected officials are listening to the increasingly loud voices demanding action. Congressman Ted Deutsch (D-FL) introduced in 2019 the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA), H.R. 763, which by the end of September was co-sponsored by 64 Democrats and one Republican. Today, the number of House members that support this bill is 75. Economists at Columbia University confirm after studying this bill that it would reduce emissions by between 36-38% by 2030, and would cover 80% of all US greenhouse gas emissions. The price of carbon would increase for all consumers. Importantly, each adult citizen or legal resident would be paid a carbon dividend every year. Children would get half a dividend each.
Another result of H.R. 763 would be a decline in air pollution from power plants. In addition, electricity generation would shift to cleaner sources and bring along new types of jobs in the
clean energy industry. Border carbon tax adjustment would be assessed on imports and exports which would protect the competitiveness of US companies. Energy prices would rise but so would the carbon dividend to individuals. The annual dividend per eligible adult would start between $250-260 in 2020, should the bill pass. By 2030 the dividend would be $1,410-$1,470 per adult, slightly above the increased cost of electricity and gas. A large family that turns off the lights and uses efficient bulbs and appliances would benefit.
Several other legislative proposals were put forward in 2019. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Congressman Francis Rooney (R-FL), Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Congressman John Larson (D-CT) have all proposed putting a price on carbon. As did Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen. Some of these bills allow for carbon dividends to low and middle-income households while keeping some of the money for infrastructure or a general fund. Economists who have studied these bills are in favor of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA), exemplified by an EICDA study by Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy and the Rhodium Group as presented by Hope Clark of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), Chestertown and Dr. Frances Stewart of CCL, Annapolis in a lecture to the Environmental Committee of the Democratic Forum last fall.
A carbon tax with a carbon dividend is also the GOP preferred choice, according to a recent Washington Post op-ed by George P. Shultz (Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of the Treasury under President Richard Nixon) as well as Ted Halstead (Chairman and CEO of the Climate Leadership Council). They opined that there are three ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: regulations, subsidies and pricing. More regulations go against the grain of conservatives – it would not work. Subsidies for clean energy industries are a good choice to encourage innovations but would not work across the whole economy. Therefore, a carbon tax is their preferred choice. This is also the favored option of corporate America and all former Republican chairs of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. They also suggest that all income produced by a fossil fuel tax should be returned to consumers in the form of a carbon dividend. A poll by Lunz Global found that Americans support a carbon dividend 4-1 and that Republicans under the age of 40 support it 6-1. Republicans risk losing younger voters, if their party does not support efforts to combat climate change.
It seems to me that a carbon tax on fossil fuel production and use with a carbon dividend pay-out annually to consumers could be a win-win for both parties and the country. It would also create a lot of new, better paying jobs in the clean energy sector of the American economy. Passing a carbon tax and dividend law may allow us to meet the promised slashing of US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 made by representatives of our country at the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015. Let us show the world that we keep our promises, and it may lead the way for other countries to do the same.
This is the final installment of a three-part series on the Green New Deal by Lena Gill, a Board Member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum. She writes from Easton.