A Twofer for the Climate on February 24

If you’re concerned about the climate emergency and were plugged in to news sources on February 24, you probably know that the climate movement won a big victory: President Obama vetoed the legislation passed by Congress to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

But there was another, less publicized, important development on that day: the introduction by Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, with 16 co-sponsors, of the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act (H.R. 1027) in the House of Representatives.

The Healthy Climate bill uses a “cap and dividend” framework. It would legislate a steadily declining cap on carbon emissions, about 2% a year starting the year that it is passed, leading to an 80% reduction compared to 2005 levels by 2050. Coal, oil and gas companies that bring fossil fuels out of the ground or into the country would be required to buy permits at auction. The overall number of those permits would decrease as the cap declines, leading to rising permit prices. All of the money raised by this process, many hundreds of billions over the first decade, would be returned in equal amounts as “dividends” to every US resident with a social security number.

Given the absolute need for the federal government to enact a price on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, this less publicized development is, arguably, as important as President Obama’s veto.

The fact is that there are several things which the climate movement must be doing:

1) stopping the expansion of extreme energy extraction: tar sands oil, fracking, Arctic oil and gas drilling, mountaintop coal removal, and deep ocean oil and gas drilling in particular
2) accelerating the rapidly growing shift from fossil fuels to wind and solar as energy sources for electrical power
3) advancing local, state and federal legislation that incentivizes energy efficiency and renewables
4) supporting strong federal regulation of greenhouse gases
5) working to enact federal legislation that puts a price on carbon and other planet-heating greenhouse gases

Given the power, wealth and greed of the fossil fuel industry and its ability, so far, to control almost all Republican congresspeople and a significant percentage of Democrats, it is not surprising that number five is the least developed of all of these.

That has to — absolutely has to — change.

As 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben emphasized on yesterday’s tele-press conference on the bill’s reintroduction, it makes “no sense to allow one industry to throw its pollution into the atmosphere for free. If anyone owns the sky, it’s not Exxon. It’s all of us”

The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act would “accelerate very quickly the biggest job on the planet: getting rid of carbon,” added McKibben. “There would be no plan for Keystone XL if there was anything like a rational price on carbon.”

With Congressman Chris Van Hollen leading the way and the support of groups like 350.org, CCAN, Center for Popular Democracy, Center for Biological Diversity, National People’s Action, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club, a strong, fair and commonsense federal solution to price carbon is finally moving forward. More information on this legislation can be found at http://climateandprosperity.org.