Op-Ed

N.C. representatives should join bipartisan effort on climate change

In this Sunday, July 24, 2016 file photo, climate change activists carry signs as they march during a protest in downtown in Philadelphia a day before the start of the Democratic National Convention.
In this Sunday, July 24, 2016 file photo, climate change activists carry signs as they march during a protest in downtown in Philadelphia a day before the start of the Democratic National Convention. AP

The year 2017 was a climate record breaker, threatening the economic future of North Carolina. It was the hottest year on record for North Carolina and the hottest year on record without an El Niño for the entire globe.

Natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the California wildfires inflicted a record $306 billion in damages across the United States. Three of the five most expensive hurricanes in United States history made landfall in 2017.

Hurricane Maria struck over 100 days ago, and about 1.5 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico still do not have power. The intensity of storms appears to be increasing as a result of climate change. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports since at least 2007 have predicted this. Indeed, 41 scientific papers published in the past two years have tied specific extreme weather events to climate change.

Scientists and citizens around the world are in agreement that climate change is caused by human carbon emissions and that it threatens our health, safety and economy now and for years to come. A problem that large demands a national-level response. That response will not be coming from the White House. The president is rolling back the Clean Power Plan, increasing oil exploration and enabling drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean. He has also initiated withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Surprisingly, in an age of gridlock, it is a bipartisan group of Congress members who are showing what a federal response can look like. South Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Sanford is among the latest to join the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus. The Caucus follows the Noah’s Ark rule: members must join in pairs, one from each side of the aisle. To date, 33 Republicans and 33 Democrats are staking out bipartisan territory. More and more representatives are getting on board – 15 pairs joined in 2017.

The Climate Solutions Caucus focuses on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s resources, infrastructure, economy and public safety. One of the most promising proposals the Caucus can consider is a revenue-neutral Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D). CF&D is based on a steadily rising fee on fossil-fuels. The fee would start around $15 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 ) and increase $10 per year. The monies collected from the fee would be sent straight back to American taxpayers instead of to government coffers. A border adjustment would ensure that American companies are not disadvantaged.

A straightforward fee on carbon has been shown to be a powerful tool to unlock investment in clean energy and less-polluting products. Modeling shows that our greenhouse gas emissions will drop while still saving the average American money. Individuals and families will be shielded from the rising cost of carbon through return of the revenue from the carbon fee back to households. The carbon fee and dividend is supported by conservatives and liberals alike. Remarkably, even oil and gas companies such as Shell, BP and Exxon and large corporations such as GM support this strategy because it provides regulatory certainty and is built on a free-market frame. The Climate Leadership Council, founded and led by former secretaries of state who served under Reagan and George H.W. Bush, is advocating for a similar plan.

At present, no representatives from North Carolina have joined the Climate Solutions Caucus. Our senators are currently co-sponsoring exactly zero legislation to address climate risks. In a state where 72 percent of the surveyed population supports regulation of CO2 as a pollutant, this is unacceptable.

The time is now for North Carolina’s House members to join the House Climate Solutions Caucus and for our senators to support revenue-neutral legislation for a carbon fee and dividend. The economic future of our state depends on it.

Justin Baumann is a Ph.D candidate at UNC Chapel Hill, studying the effects of climate change on coral reefs. Doug Nichols is a retired vice president and general counsel for Portland General Electric Co. This op-ed was also signed by Melissa Malkin-Weber. All are volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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