Devin Thorpe: Biden should look to a Republican idea for climate

(Sam McNeil | AP file photo) In this Nov. 28, 2019, photo, smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province. Chinese President Xi Jinping says his country will aim to stop pumping additional carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas, into the atmosphere by 2060. Xi's announcement during a speech Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, to the U.N. General Assembly is a significant step for the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and was immediately cheered by climate campaigners.

President-elect Joe Biden should look to his mentor, President Barack Obama, for an example of how to move forward with a climate change solution that can be implemented quickly with significant immediate impact on carbon emissions that will also help the economy.

Obama made health care reform a priority. Rather than implement a highly partisan solution favored by Democrats, he copied — or at least borrowed liberally from — former-Gov. Mitt Romney’s health care plan for Massachusetts, sometimes called “Romneycare.”

While Republicans repudiated their prior support for the plan, Obama was able to get it through Congress as the Affordable Care Act. Dozens of attempts to repeal it in Congress and countless legal challenges later, the act still provides health insurance to nearly 20 million people who lacked it before it passed.

Biden should take the same strategic approach on climate by moving quickly to pass a Republican-supported, bipartisan solution.

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which puts a price on carbon and rebates the revenue to Americans on an equal basis, was sponsored by Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch and co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Francis Rooney, both of Florida. The idea of a carbon fee and dividend has had more Republican support than almost any other effective climate intervention.

A carbon fee and dividend model would collect a fee at the point of extraction of the polluting fossil fuel. The revenue, after keeping enough to fund the costs of running the program, would be distributed as a rebate to taxpayers equally.

Consumers could avoid some of increased price of carbon-heavy products or services, by switching to electric vehicles, adding solar panels to their homes, turning down the thermostat or other climate-friendly choices. Their share of the dividend, however, would remain unchanged and be free to be spent as they choose.

Note that this plan puts the burden of the fees mostly on more affluent people who drive more, fly farther and more often, live in bigger homes and otherwise use more carbon. Lower-income families naturally use less carbon, more often taking the public transit and living in smaller homes and apartments.

The bills also makes adjustments at national borders to avoid penalizing American exporters or providing an unfair advantage to imports that weren’t subjected to similar fees in their countries of origin.

Lending support to this idea, two separate studies were recently published showing that putting a price on carbon has a positive impact on the economy. These studies are different than others that have reached the same conclusion using sophisticated economic models because they instead have evaluated the impact of national economies around the world after the adoption of a tax on carbon.

The new studies also show that clean energy jobs pay more than the median wages in the U.S. and are closely comparable in earnings to work in the fossil fuel sector.

While many on the left, including me, believe that more should be done in addition to a carbon fee and dividend, the fact is that quickly moving on this relatively simple bill is possible and the impact will be immediate as companies and consumers begin shifting their behavior even before the law is implemented to reduce their exposure. Afterward, let’s see what else we can do.

Biden should take a page from the Obama administration and execute on this bipartisan solution quickly.

Devin Thorpe

Devin Thorpe, a resident of Salt Lake City, recently ran for Congress in Utah’s 3rd District and is a member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.