A New Bi-Partisan Congressional Initiative on Climate Change

Congressmen Ted Deutch (D-FL), Francis Rooney (R-FL), John K. Delaney (D-MD), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Charlie Crist (D-FL) have introduced a new bill, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (press release and bill text available here), that places a price on carbon pollution and adjusts that price dynamically to meet strong emissions reduction goals.  

Update 12/21/18: Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced a similar Senate bill on Wednesday, with important differences on Clean Air Act provisions explained below.

We’re pleased to see members of both parties working together on bills designed to curb dangerous climate change, and we are particularly thankful for renewed Republican leadership on this topic.

Climate protection wasn’t always the partisan issue it has become. And it should not remain so going forward. Climate change threatens all Americans and is already causing real harm today in all parts of the country, red and blue. The recent damage from hurricanes and coastal sunny-day flooding makes it no surprise that several of the bill sponsors are from Florida, where climate change is increasingly important to voters of both parties--indeed, new polls from Monmouth, FoxNews, and the Wall Street Journal/NBC show that's true nationwide.

Given the threats we all face from climate change, we need political leadership from both sides of the aisle. We hope these bills mark the start of that process.

The House bill includes stronger carbon reduction targets and other improvements over some similar bills, although it includes Clean Air Act preemptions that we do not support.  The Senate bill retains critical Clean Air Act authority to curb carbon pollution.  We need to add new climate protection tools to the toolbox, but not trade one for another. 

Here are our initial reactions to these bills:  

These bipartisan proposals recognize the severity of the climate change threat and offers detailed policy solutions to curb heat-trapping pollution across multiple sectors of the American economy.  

  • The bills' targets are linked to strong environmental goals. Their reduction goals—stronger than those proposed recently by Rep. Curbelo and others—appear consistent with the contribution required of the United States to holding global warming under 2 degrees Celsius.  In light of the extreme danger in exceeding 1.5°C, revealed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent special report, it is important for both bills to include a mechanism for strengthening their targets.    
  • The bills use market mechanisms to cost-effectively achieve its emissions goals and it provides for regularly reviewing and adjusting carbon emission fees as needed to meet those goals.
  • The bills commits the U.S. to re-engaging constructively in international efforts to reduce climate change.
  • They provide for the National Academies to periodically assess the effectiveness of the program over time and to review how to address biomass concerns.  

NRDC’s most significant concern is that the House bill restricts existing authority to set carbon pollution limits through standards under the Clean Air Act. While the House bill preserves EPA authority to set standards for cars, trucks, and other transportation sources, it would effectively bar such measures for power plants and industry for a decade or more. The Senate bill keeps these vital Clean Air Act authorities.

We must keep all our climate-fighting tools on the table and should not preempt or limit current authorities. If these bills are enacted and the carbon fee achieves the bills' climate protection targets, then EPA won’t need to use this existing authority.  But that authority must remain unrestricted as an effective and timely backstop.

The bills laudably cover climate “super-pollutants” such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), but their treatment illustrates the risks of relying on fees alone. HFCs are hundreds to thousands of times more powerful climate pollutants than carbon dioxide, on a pound for pound basis.  The bill would set a separate fee for them, however, at just one-tenth the rate applicable to carbon dioxide. We need limits on these powerful climate pollutants and cannot rely solely on a price that may not be sufficient to meet critical phase-down targets.

The following figure illustrates recent emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases along with the emissions targets of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. The figure also shows NRDC’s analysis of the pathway we need to be on to achieve an 80% emissions reduction by 2050.

A thorough summary of the House bill and comparison to other carbon tax proposals from Noah Kaufman at Columbia also lays out reasons why emission reductions could exceed the bill’s targets, especially in the near-term.

The two versions of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act reflect a serious effort to respond to the gravity of the climate disruption we are already experiencing and that will only worsen if we fail to act. Most importantly, they are sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats.

Climate change has gone from “future problem” to “now crisis.” There is no more time to waste. We hope more members from both parties in the House and Senate will join the conversation with their colleagues and reach across the aisle to develop strong climate and clean energy legislation.

About the Authors

David Doniger

Senior Strategic Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Derek Murrow

Senior Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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