Climate bills sweep Washington, as GOP and Democrats...
- Feb 13, 2020
- Friendswood Journal
WASHINGTON - From a carbon pricing schemes to outright fracking bans to tree planting, a wave of legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions has emerged in Congress in recent weeks.
Nine months before the presidential election, climate change is taking up greater political bandwidth, as interests from across the ideological spectrum vie for position on an issue that looks to have monumental implications for the U.S. and global economies in the decades ahead.
“Politicians in all camps are seeing increasing stakeholder demands, calls by industry and just frankly a need to do something, as these extreme weather impacts keep hitting us” said Janet Peace, a senior vice president at the think tank Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “You used to talk about climate impacts being far in the future.”
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Some the America's largest corporations, including Exxon Mobil, JP Morgan Chase and AT&T, got into the act Thursday, pitching what they called a “bipartisan” carbon tax plan, with the goal of decreasing U.S. emissions 50 percent by 2035. In exchange, they want a undo existing greenhouse gas regulations, like those restricting emissions from power plants, and halt any future action.
Named the Climate Leadership Council, the group is stepping into an increasingly crowded debate on how best to attack climate, whether through regulatory schemes that set limits on carbon emissions and impose penalties for exceeding them, market mechanisms such as taxes or cap-and-trade schemes that provide economic incentives for companies to reduce their carbon footprints or government subsidies to drive innovation in technologies such as carbon capture and next generation nuclear reactors.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Democratic presidential candidate. and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, have recently introduced legislation banning hydraulic fracturing, while House Republicans this week introduced bills that would increase government spending to support technological fixes, such as carbon capture, and planting trees, which absorb carbon dioxide.
Asked if Republican leaders would consider putting a price on domestic carbon emissions, the answer was a resounding no.
“[Carbon pricing] doesn’t affect the global use of carbon and that’s where the fight has to be,” said Rep. David McKinley, R-W.V. “In India and China, they’re going to continue to burn and use coal.”
That Republicans are talking about climate change solutions at all represents a step forward, as the climate skepticism that was prevalent in the party only a few years ago has steadily fallen out of vogue.
McKinley recently co-wrote an op-ed with Oregon Democrat Rep. Kurt Schrader proposing bipartisan legislation that would fund, “a decade of public and private investments in clean energy innovation and infrastructure development, followed by new regulatory standards to ensure environmental and energy goals are met.”
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The hope among carbon-tax proponents is that Republicans will eventually come around, sensing that research funding alone isn’t going to cut greenhouse gases fast enough to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. In such a reality, a revenue-neutral carbon tax — with money collected from the tax going back to Americans in the form of a dividend check — is believed to be more palatable to Republicans than a regulatory crackdown on fossil fuels.
To drum up support for the proposal, the climate council, whose members include figures such as former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and former secretary of state James Baker, hosted a dinner in Washington Tuesday night for Republican and Democrats from the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus. Caucus members include Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
“Obviously it won’t pass (right now), but the point is to tee this up ahead of the 2020 election,” said Ted Halstead, chairman of the climate council. “We think eventually there will be a Republican jail break moment on this.”
But to many in Washington, that is simply wishful thinking.
A number of conservatives decried Republicans attempting to address climate change at all. Myron Ebell, President Trump’s former environmental adviser, called the legislation a response to “years of receiving bad-faith political attacks from climate alarmists.”
“The worry (among some conservatives) is that if you start down the road of addressing this issue, you can eventually end up in some hostile waters,” said Stephen Brown, a California-based energy consultant. “The merits of a carbon tax, while apparently obvious to many economists and academics, have yet to reach an inflection point with Republicans who have to get re-elected for a living.”
So far, senators from both parties are keeping quiet.
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Asked about the climate council dinner, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who co-chair the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, declined to say who attended and said in a statement, “We’re pleased that the caucus has received so much outreach from industry, state and local governments, environmental groups, and advocates who want to take action on climate.”
“Our focus right now is making sure that Senators from both sides of the aisle get to hear from a wide range of groups.”
But pressure from American corporations is growing, as executives are increasingly viewing climate change as a serious threat to the global economy.
Last month Larry Fink, chief executive of the New York investment firm BlackRock, wrote a letter to CEOs of the world’s largest companies warning that BlackRock bank would be begin shifting its $7 trillion under management away from investments that “present a high sustainability-related risk.”
“You have to follow the money,” said Curt Morgan, CEO of Dallas-based power company Vistra Energy, a member of the climate council. “Things are moving at a rapid pace pushing countries on climate change. There is going to be a continued push, and both sides of the aisle have to listen to that.”
Other energy companies that are members of the climate council include ConocoPhillips, BP, Calpine, Royal Dutch Shell and Total.