Tipping point for carbon pricing just got closer

Tipping point for carbon pricing just got closer

By Mark Reynolds

Like objects in a passenger-side mirror, the tipping point for pricing carbon is a lot closer than it appears, and votes this week in the Senate moved it a bit closer. Let’s indulge ourselves for a moment to connect some dots that have me accentuating the positive.

In the Senate on Wednesday, three amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline bill were taken up about climate change. These were “sense of the Senate” resolutions.

Sen. James Inhofe previously said global warming is a hoax. His vote shows the conversation has shifted.

Sen. James Inhofe previously said global warming is a hoax. His vote shows the conversation has shifted.

An amendment from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said that climate change was real and not a hoax, but did not acknowledge human causes. Every Republican except one – Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) – voted for it. This may not have been a particularly courageous stand for Republicans, but it was noteworthy that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who previously declared global warming a hoax, voted yes. Inhofe, the Senate’s leading climate skeptic, acknowledging the existence of climate change (if not its human causes) is a sure indication that the ground has shifted.

The amendment from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) proved a bit more challenging, saying that climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to it. Schatz’ amendment received 50 votes, far less the 60 required, but there were five Republicans who voted for it. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe that these Republicans, having acknowledged we have a human-caused problem, would want to support a solution to the problem. Here are the senators we’ll refer to as the “fantastic five”:

  • Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • Senator Kelley Ayotte (R-NH)
  • Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)
  • Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
  • Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL)

The third amendment, offered by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) removed the word “significantly” from the Schatz amendment, saying that human activity contributes to climate change. What a difference one word makes. On this vote, 15 Republicans* said “yes,” and the amendment fell only one vote shy of the 60 needed.

This was the vote that really grabbed my attention. Being an eternal optimist, I’m betting that these 15, after hearing from our persuasive volunteers, would be willing to vote for a market-based alternative to EPA regulations – our Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal – putting us in close proximity to the votes necessary for passage.

Now here’s the other dot to connect that had me thinking about that tipping point. The Washington Examiner has a piece this week reporting that Republicans are now casting about for a position on climate change:

Now in control of Congress, some Republicans are beginning to think that simply throwing bombs at the Environmental Protection Agency and Obama’s regulations won’t work any longer, staffers on Capitol Hill say. Instead, they believe they must develop their own ideas on how to combat climate change, especially to help moderate GOP senators up for re-election in 2016… The rough outline is that tactics to reduce emissions should not harm the economy, but what that would entail is not certain.

If you’re a CCL volunteer, you’re way ahead of me at this point. If not, allow me to fill in the rest of the picture.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s proposal – a rising fee on carbon with revenue returned to households – fills the bill for a solution that would “not harm the economy.” And, thanks to the REMI study released last June, we know that our proposal would actually ADD 2.8 million American jobs over 20 years. Our solution isn’t just benign toward the economy. It’s downright benevolent.

The key for us, given that Republicans are now looking for a climate solution they can support, is to spread the good news of the REMI report and have constituents communicate their desire for Carbon Fee and Dividend with Republican members of Congress.

Want more optimism?

The Pope is due to release his encyclical dealing with climate change in June, right around the time that 1,000 CCL volunteers will be heading to Washington to lobby Congress.

Things are starting to look VERY interesting.

Mark Reynolds is Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

*15 Republicans voting in favor of Hoeven amendment:

  • Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • Senator Kelley Ayotte (R-NH)
  • Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)
  • Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  • Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
  • Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Senator Dean Heller (R-NV)
  • Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL)
  • Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
  • Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)
  • Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD)
  • Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA)
Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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