Election 2016: Finding common ground for a carbon fee
By Flannery Winchester
With two presidential debates in Miami this week, climate change and other environmental policy matters have begun to rise to prominence in the race. No doubt, environmental advocates from both sides of the aisle are paying close attention. Though the president cannot make legislation himself or herself, the president does set the tone for the national agenda, which could be favorable to evidence-based climate action — or not.
In last night’s Republican debate, Marco Rubio claimed that there was no legislation Washington could pass to “change the weather,” and that suggested laws would “hurt and devastate the economy.” He suggested that America’s efforts would not be effective because other countries continue to pollute. John Kasich acknowledged the scientific reality that climate change is driven by human activity and pointed out that a strong environmental policy and economic growth are not mutually exclusive, but advocated for an “all of the above” energy policy. Trump and Cruz were not posed any questions on climate change.
Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed over environmental policy too — specifically the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Clinton supports it conditionally, and Sanders rejects the practice entirely. In their Miami debate, Sanders also specifically called Clinton to join him in supporting a price on carbon.
But whoever ends up in the White House, Republican or a Democrat, CCL’s work of building relationships and advocating for Carbon Fee & Dividend legislation will continue. To build support, we must be able to find common ground with anyone. In this piece, we’ll take a look at the policy positions Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, Clinton and Sanders have stated on their campaign websites. Those policies — both environmental and otherwise — will help us identify potential areas of common ground with them and their supporters in Congress. That common ground is where we’ll build support for Carbon Fee and Dividend over the next four years, no matter who is elected this November.
Common Ground: Jobs
The policy page of Donald Trump’s website does not include a section on environmental policy. However, regarding American trade with China, his plan states it will reclaim American jobs by “putting an end to China’s illegal export subsidies and lax labor and environmental standards.” It goes on to specify, “No more sweatshops or pollution havens stealing jobs from American workers.”
When it comes to enticing jobs back from overseas, we can definitely find some common ground based on the Carbon Fee & Dividend proposal. The proposal would put import fees on products brought in from countries without a carbon fee, which would discourage businesses from relocating where they can emit more carbon dioxide with impunity. It would help bring American jobs back, stimulate job growth here at home, and help us drive global emissions lower with every passing year.
Common Ground: Defense
The policy page of Ted Cruz’s website does not include a section on environmental policy. One of his banner issues, though, is national defense. His website states, “We need to judge each challenge through the simple test of what is best for America. Because what is best for America is best for the world.”
What is best for America, to be sure, is limiting the effects of climate change so we don’t have to struggle with erratic floods and droughts that affect our food supply and clean water access, encroaching sea levels that force our citizens to migrate further inland, and extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy that cost billions to recover from.
Indeed, the Department of Defense acknowledges that climate change poses a great national security risk. Their 2015 report states very clearly, “Global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries.” We can all agree that a more stable world means a safer America, so mitigating climate change should be a staple of any effective national defense platform.
Common Ground: Agriculture
The policy page of Marco Rubio’s website does not include a section on environmental policy. One unique section of this candidate’s website is one dedicated to his approach to helping farmers and ranchers. It explicitly states that he will fight the establishment of a carbon tax, and instead he will work to “bring down energy costs for farmers.”
In this case, a focus on the “dividend” portion of the Carbon Fee and Dividend plan would be key. By returning all of the revenue back to households, consumers — including farmers — would be able to comfortably adjust to the slightly higher prices of fossil fuels. As the fee increases year to year, the dividend would too.
Also, the effects of climate change would be much more damaging to agriculture than higher energy prices. For example, earlier warming and late frosts puts entire cherry crops at risk. Fewer cold days in winter can reduce pecan, peach and blueberry crops. Unpredictable rainfall and increased drought also pose obvious risks to any crop. So if Rubio’s goal truly is to support farmers, policies to mitigate climate change and keep conditions favorable for agriculture are the only way forward.
Common Ground: Health Care
The policy page of John Kasich’s website does not include a section on environmental policy. It does, however, include a section on health care entitled “A Conservative Approach to Better Health Care.” It points out that our current health-care system “mistakes treating symptoms for solving problems which only worsens the overall, long-term problem.” Ultimately, his plan hopes to lower health-care costs.
A Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal would certainly help Kasich achieve his goals in this area. Lower CO2 emissions means less of other co-pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which can cause chronic bronchitis, asthma and cardiovascular events such as heart attacks. In fact, just a 24 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 could prevent thousands of premature deaths and as many as 1,600 emergency room visits for asthma. Fewer sick people means fewer dollars spent healing them, so a plan to reduce carbon emissions goes hand in hand with reducing health care spending.
Common Ground: Energy
The policy page of Hillary Clinton’s website does include a section on environmental policy, which is entitled “Climate Change and Energy.” It identifies climate change as an urgent threat — one that requires America to become “the world’s clean energy superpower.” Her plan to do that includes creating clean energy jobs, setting national goals for renewable energy and solar power, and “reduc[ing] American oil consumption by a third.”
There are many more details included in her plan, but the overall theme is shifting America’s energy infrastructure toward more renewable energy capacity and usage. A perfect complement to that focus on renewables would be a Carbon Fee and Dividend, because it would drive up the cost of fossil fuels and continue the trend of renewables becoming the most affordable energy option.
Common Ground: Economy
The policy page of Bernie Sanders’s website does include a section on environmental policy, which is entitled “Combating Climate Change to Save the Planet.” It acknowledges the nearly unanimous scientific agreement that “climate change is real, is caused by human activity, and is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world.” His plan to combat climate change includes banning fossil fuel lobbyists from working in the White House, ending fossil fuel subsidies, working toward a 100 percent clean energy system and more.
There are many more details included in his plan, but for our purposes, the most notable is this: “As president, Bernie will put a price on carbon. Bernie agrees with leading economists on both ends of the political spectrum: a tax on carbon is one of the most straightforward and cost-effective strategies for quickly fighting climate change.”
Here, it becomes clear that the common ground is the economic logic of a Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal. A price on carbon will increase demand for renewable options, driving down costs and making clean energy more affordable for everyone. That ties into Sanders’ most familiar message of combating economic inequality, makes this very fertile common ground for Carbon Fee and Dividend legislation.