Sen. Casey, go bold on climate legislation

Jon Clark
Citizens’ Climate Lobby
A vehicle maneuvers through a flooded roadway on North Belmont Street as rains from remnants of former Hurricane Ida soaked the region Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. Several roads were closed due to flooding during the day. Bill Kalina photo

Hurricane Ida sent Americans a clear message last week. That message is the cost of carbon pollution to our economy is not free.

Early estimates say Ida could cost insurance companies anywhere from $15 billion to $25 billion and uninsured losses could amount to a staggering $95 billion, much of that in northeastern states where residents were hit with torrential rains.

Yet the amount of money polluters are required to pay to pump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere is zero.

We can disagree about exactly how much carbon pollution costs our economy, but there is no disagreement that the cost is not zero. 

More:48 dead: After Ida soaks Northeast U.S., cleanup and mourning continues

More:Disaster declared as York County works to restore power, fix roads after Ida

Climate change undoubtedly played a role in fueling Ida. According to NPR: “Climate change helped Ida rapidly gain strength right before it made landfall. In about 24 hours, it jumped from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm as it moved over abnormally hot water in the Gulf of Mexico. The ocean was the temperature of bathwater — about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. That's a few degrees hotter than average, according to measurements by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"The extra heat acted as fuel for the storm. Heat is energy, and hurricanes with more energy have faster wind speeds and larger storm surges. As the Earth heats up, rapidly intensifying major hurricanes such as Ida are more likely to occur, scientists say. Abnormally hot water also increases flood risk from hurricanes. Hurricanes suck up moisture as they form over the water and then dump that moisture as rain. The hotter the water — and the hotter the air — the more water vapor gets sucked up.”

Scientists have determined that the ocean absorbs more than 90 percent of the excess heat from global-warming-greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases are released when humans burn fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas. Not surprising, as the ocean makes up 70% of the earth’s surface. 

The United States is one of only two developed countries that still have not priced carbon pollution in one form or another, Australia being the other. We’ve done a lot in the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we are still the world’s second largest polluter behind China. Our emissions amount to 14% of global emissions in 2019, China was responsible for about twice that amounting to 29% and India emitted about half of U.S. emissions with about 7%. So, these three nations amounted to half of all global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.

Congress has a unique opportunity in the budget reconciliation to address our need to put a price on carbon pollution. Instead of needing 60 votes, a reconciliation bill only needs a simple majority in the Senate, meaning there’s a good chance to pass a carbon pricing bill. NBC News reports the Senate Finance Committee is considering a “per-ton tax on the carbon dioxide content of leading fossil fuels (meaning coal, oil, natural gas) upon extraction, starting at $15 per ton and escalating over time,” which “would be paired with rebates or other direct relief for low-income taxpayers, as well as a border adjustment to ensure foreign companies also pay the tax.” Senator Bob Casey sits on this committee, so he has the power to support putting a price on carbon pollution in reconciliation. 

I’m thankful for President Biden's commitment to addressing climate change. He has named a goal of 50% emissions reductions by 2030, but so far, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s modeling shows the proposed policies only get to about 45% emissions reductions. Adding a robust price on carbon to the package would ensure that America meets the targets to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.

I’ve been advocating for a price on carbon pollution for a decade. As a former Republican, I believe in market-based solutions to our problems. I started the York Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby in March of 2011 because I believe in CCL’s approach to solving the climate crisis. I believe by pricing carbon pollution accordingly, the market will decide the most cost-efficient way to reduce emissions. Contrary to what skeptics say about pricing carbon, returning the revenue back into consumers' pockets will boost our economy and grow jobs and investment in carbon-free sources of energy even more. Consumers can choose how they spend their money. 

As Pennsylvania communities struggle to recover from Ida’s damages and brace for further climate change impacts, Congress has no choice but to go big with bold climate action to meet the moment. Our lives depend on it. Our future depends on it.

— Jon Clark is Appalachia Regional Coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby and lives in Lancaster.