Energy bill could change the world

It makes all Americans players in the climate market — the more we conserve, the more we are rewarded.

  • Wednesday, January 9, 2019 12:35pm
  • Opinion
Joe Yarkin (Courtesy Photo).

Joe Yarkin (Courtesy Photo).

One of the most exciting opportunities to come with the new year from Washington D.C. is H.R. 7173, the bipartisan-sponsored Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act that will be going before our new Congress in 2019.

This bold bill will tackle the issues of climate change and atmospheric pollution with a progressive tax that will benefit the economy while providing environmental leadership to the world. Ten years in the making, the biggest irony is that in the cacophony of partisan bickering, this bill has received little to no media coverage and is even being ignored by major environmental groups.

A third party analyst firm, Regional Economic Models Inc. (REMI), did an impact study and found that in 20 years H.R. 7173 would reduce our carbon footprint to 50 percent of 1990 levels, create 2.8 million jobs and avoid 280,000 premature deaths. That’s pretty impressive. The best part is that this bill incentivizes our trading partners to participate by removing their carbon tariffs if they are participating in an equivalent national program. That could have a far-reaching global impact.

What is the mechanism employed to achieve such reductions in atmospheric pollutants? H.R. 7173 is a revenue-neutral carbon (and other atmospheric pollution) tax collected from the original producers of the pollutants: oil companies, coal companies and any imported industrial product that enters the United States with an atmospheric impact. The bill starts with a 15$/ton fee and goes up $10 each year. As costs go up for producers, consumers will start paying higher rates for the products we use that cause atmospheric pollution. The money collected will be deposited in a carbon trust fund and every American adult will receive a monthly check with their share. Americans 18 and under will also receive a half share. Note: My kids are pretty happy about this potential new allowance. H.R. 7173 is considered revenue neutral because all that is paid out is distributed back to citizens via the Internal Revenue Service with a minimal administrative fee starting at maximum 5 percent and then going down to 2 percent as efficiencies are worked out.

One of the criticisms of H.R. 7173 is that major oil companies are backing this bill, and because of their self-interest, anything they endorse will not work. The authors of H.R. 7173 addressed the power of the oil companies to fight the bill by writing in economic pressure to reduce pollutants via incentives with self-correcting quantitative analysis in place of cumbersome regulation. Oil industry leadership successfully defeated our recent Washington State initiative 1631. To have their buy-in puts H.R. 7131 in a new league.

There is much talk about the “Green New Deal” and how we can subsidize green energy. This bill makes all Americans players in the climate market by way of the basic rule “the more we conserve, the more we are rewarded.” H.R. 7173 creates market conditions for energy efficiency startups and renewable energy projects, as well as any product or service that reduces atmospheric pollution, giving our economy a prosperous new direction.

When I calculated the financial impact on my family using the online calculator available at citizensclimatelobby.org, my household expenses would likely go up by $56/month, but our income would go up by $80/month. That’s not bad, although I think the kids benefit the most. In fact, a recent analysis from the U.S. Department of Treasury found that the bottom 70 percent of Americans would be better off financially with this plan.

Please don’t mention this to the White House, but enacting the energy and innovation bill would surpass our obligations under the Paris climate accord. In order for H.R. 7173 to pass, it needs citizens to promote it.

H.R. 7173 provides a rare opportunity to unite Americans. It reflects deep values on both sides of the aisle. It is a green bill that holds the key to carbon reduction worldwide. That is something every liberal can fight for. HR 7173 uses market forces to direct the decision making and future of global energy companies, steering them toward the development of renewables, and lifting the need for heavy-handed regulation. Liberals, get on the phone and call that conservative uncle you shared an awkward Thanksgiving meal with, and tell him you want to work with him on the passage of H.R. 7173 together. Conservatives, call your children attending those liberal arts colleges and get this bill passed.

I have reached out to congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, urging her as co-chair of the progressive caucus to load this shovel-ready bill into the “Green New Deal.” There is a change in power dynamics in D.C. Remember it was our Republican president Richard Nixon who signed the landmark Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972. This could be our golden opportunity; we may not get this chance again.

— Joe Yarkin is an island farmer who also works in climate science support.

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