Student advocates celebrate introduction of national carbon price bill

Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 2:32pm

LSA sophomore Catherine Garton was motivated to found the University of Michigan’s chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby this semester, because of a core belief that students’ voices are imperative for creating policy to combat climate change. For two years, Garton was a member of CCL’s Ann Arbor chapter, one of 489 active chapters the organization maintains. Its main goal is to lobby for national policies that address carbon emissions and climate change in every congressional district.

On Nov. 27, the main policy for which the CCL had been advocating was introduced to Congress: a national carbon price, known as The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2018 (H.R.7173). The bill is sponsored by U.S. Reps. Theodore Deutch, D-Fla.; Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.; John Delaney, D-Md.; Francis Rooney, R-Fla.; Charlie Crist, D-Fla.; and David Trott, R-Mich.

In a statement regarding the introduction of the bill, CCL said it hoped Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., would co-sponsor the bill, “either now or when the bill is reintroduced in the new Congress.” Dingell, a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said Congress had act on climate change now, but did not specify whether she would cosponsor the bill.

“It’s time that Congress takes action to address climate change and ensures that the US is a world leader in addressing global warming,” Dingell wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily. “In Michigan and on the Energy and Commerce Committee I’m having critical conversations about changing the status quo and taking action now. Our economy and environment are at stake and we must think outside the box to mitigate irreversible damage.”

The policy applies a fee on the carbon dioxide content of fossil fuel producers at a starting rate of $15 per ton in 2019 and increasing by $10 per ton annually. The revenue generated from this fee would be subsequently redistributed equally among U.S. households through tax rebates, and a border carbon adjustment fee protects U.S. manufacturers by applying that price to imported goods. The policy also restricts additional regulation and stops the yearly price rise beyond $15 if the annual 5 percent emission reduction target is being met. 

According to a 2014 study by Regional Economic Models and Synapse Energy Economics, the policy’s would result in a 50 percent reduction of carbon emissions below 1990 levels in the next 20 years, an addition of 2.8 million jobs stimulated by the return of tax revenue and the prevention of 230,000 premature deaths from air pollution. 

Deutch, a University law alum, introduced the bill to the Congress floor, emphasizing the need for American investment in clean energy technologies.

“This aggressive carbon pricing scheme introduced by members from both parties marks an important opportunity to begin to seriously address the immediate threat of climate change,” Deutch stated in a press release. “The status quo is unsustainable; the time to act is right now.”

According to Garton, the University’s CCL chapter has been working all semester to have the bill introduced, facilitating informational workshops for students to call on representatives and senators to endorse the environmental policy. The workshops also aimed to build CCL’s presence on campus as a platform to educate the community on the bill and its implications.

“We’ve written Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor to have an online presence and bring out the issues of climate change with all of their intersections with health, with jobs and the economy,” Garton said. “Currently we’re working on a bipartisan event with the College Democrats and College Republicans for early next semester, where we will discuss this bill introduced into Congress, and then have a time for people from different organizations and backgrounds to discuss the bill together, and see what they both like about it, any concerns that they have.”

Garton highlighted the universality of the issue, saying CCL’s intentions are to implement policy specifically through the means of creating the political will in communities.

“Our goal is to create the political will for bipartisan solutions to climate change,” Garton said. “We believe that members of Congress don’t create political will –– we believe that they respond to political will. And so we foresee that as our job to generate action and political will within communities.”

Public Policy junior Cathrine Kelly, communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, shared the organization’s view on the bill, saying it was “a good starting point.”

"The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividends Act would be a great step forward for our country. While this bill doesn't cover every aspect of fixing climate change, it is a good starting point,” she wrote in an email interview. “It is amazing to see any bill, let alone a bill that is meant to clean up our environment, that is cosponsored by both Republicans and Democrats. As College Democrats, we know that the state of our environment is one of the most pressing issues of our generation. Now is the time to step up and make the changes needed to secure a clean environment not only for our generation, but for the generations to come."

Last May, the University’s chapter of College Republicans rescinded its endorsement of the bill, citing data from the Heritage Foundation that estimated the implementation of the tax would result in the loss of 400,000 jobs in the U.S and increase electricity costs for U.S households by 13 to 20 percent. College Republicans President Dylan Berger, an LSA sophomore, commented on the organization’s continued stance on the issue.

“We continue to oppose any renewed efforts to implement this tax on the American people,” Berger wrote in an email interview. “While we believe in climate change and want to address the issue head on, a massive tax on the American people is not the way to do it. We cannot in good faith advocate for a measure that would harm so many of our nation’s hard working families. Going forward, we want to be part of a solution that will both preserve our environment for generations to come and continue economic prosperity.”

Trott signed onto the bill on Nov. 29, showing the diversity of opinion within the Republican Party on the policy’s effectiveness.

LSA junior Hallie Fox, outreach chair of the University’s CCL chapter, was one of five members of the group who attended a trip to Washington, D.C. to get CCL-sponsored training on advocacy experience speaking to several representatives on Capitol Hill. Fox highlighted the importance of the skills she gained and the vital role students have on campus.

“Students are the backbone of the University, and what I’ve heard from a lot of University professionals is that when students want something to get done, it gets done,” she said.

Fox emphasized the importance of undertaking an active role immediately, not only in response to global current events, like the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, which predicted a high probability of food shortages, wildfires and coral reef depletion by 2040, but also at events on campus, such as the recent $80 million expansion of the University’s Central Power Plant and University President Mark Schlissel’s announcement to set the University on a trajectory toward carbon neutrality.

“One of the things that we are doing right now is that many of environmental groups on campus are going to the regents meeting on Thursday, to kind of protest but also advocate for a more comprehensive climate plan, especially for the power plant,” she said. “Mainly, the climate plan is a little bit too vague for a lot of what people who are involved in conversation on campus taste for.”

She stressed the unique role and opportunity that students have in political issues.

“It’s really important to get involved on a campus level because I think the city of Ann Arbor actually really looks to the University to do a lot of progressive action on things like climate change,” Fox said. “Not being afraid to stand up for yourself and stand up for your future –– I think that’s really important especially since we’re on a university campus and we’re encouraged to show our beliefs.”