Volunteer citizen lobbyists throughout the country are engaging in an effort to get the U.S. Congress to take a market-based approach to combatting climate change — charging fossil fuel companies for the carbon dioxide emitted by the combustion of the fuel, and giving that money to the American public for use however they wish.
Local members of Citizens’ Climate Lobby discussed their proposal with the public at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons Monday night at the Hampton Bays Community Center.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby member Edson “Tip” Brolin laid out the group’s “Carbon Fee and Dividend” plan, which he said would begin at $10 per ton of CO2 emitted by the fuel and gradually increase as the program continued.
While fossil fuel companies would eventually pass on their increased costs to consumers, Mr. Brolin said the amount of money given to American families would fully offset the increased cost, while making renewable energy choices more economically sensible for individuals.
He said analysis of the plan has shown it would generate 2.8 million new jobs, provide $1.3 million more in GDP and would save about 13,000 lives per year due to a decrease in pollution.
CCL estimates the proposal would cut US carbon emissions to half of 1990 levels within 20 years of being enacted.
The fee is based on the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the fossil fuel, not by the weight of the actual fossil fuel, which would punish producers of dirtier energy. A ton of coal, he said, for example, would produce 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide.
Mr. Brolin, a nuclear engineer by profession, said Citizens’ Climate Lobby is “neutral on how we solve the problem” of our reliance on carbon-based energy sources. Many climate scientists have backed nuclear energy as a necessary part of the reduction of carbon in the atmosphere.
He pointed out that spent nuclear fuel is now reprocessed and placed in new reactors.
“The waste you have left has an average half-life of 30 years instead of 24,000 years,” he said. “It will become essentially background in 300 years, about the length of time Southampton has been around.”
“There are ways to do this, but we have to get beyond politics,” he said. “Mother nature does not know your politics.”
The Canadian province of British Columbia has already established a carbon fee and dividend program, which has been very popular with the public.
“They have shown that it works,” said Mr. Brolin. “They’ve reduced emissions on a per capita basis and people there like it.”
Members of Citizens’ Climate Lobby met with Congressman Lee Zeldin in his Patchogue office on March 29.
Zeldin spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena issued the following statement Tuesday about that meeting.
“Nothing along those lines has been introduced this Congress, but Congressman Zeldin has an open dialogue with Citizen’s Climate Lobby,” she said. “One of the Congressman’s top priorities in Congress is to protect and preserve the abundance of our natural resources on Long Island. He will continue to work with Citizens Climate Lobby and his constituents to safeguard our environment.”
The Democrats vying for Mr. Zeldin’s seat in Congress are both familiar with the proposal, and candidate Anna Throne-Holst said at an April 12 debate that she is a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
“They’re very effective and are doing good lobbying for sound planning,” said Ms. Throne-Holst.
Her primary opponent, Dave Calone, agreed.
“Citizens’ Climate Lobby has a very interesting proposal,” he said.
Every year — this year from June 19 to June 21 — CCL meets in Washington, DC for a three-day session on effective lobbying followed by trips to the halls of Congress to pitch their proposal to legislators.
CCL member Don Matheson has been to several lobbying weekends, and he said at Monday’s forum that “every year we’re there, we get a more positive response.”
“Nobody likes to be the person proposing a tax or a fee or anything like that, but as the science evolves, it becomes more and more obvious that something needs to be done,” he said.
Mr. Brolin said that he believes Lee Zeldin could be talked into supporting the proposal.
“He would support it, if he got enough letters from constituents,” he said.
Members of the League of Women Voters asked numerous pointed questions about whether the proposal would be equitable for all Americans, especially those whose lives are dependent on coal, and on the mechanics of how the money would be distributed.
Mr. Brolin said that several government agencies, including Social Security, are experts at sending checks to large numbers of Americans.
“If there’s one thing the government is good at, it’s sending a check,” he said.
Mr. Matheson said that historically coal-rich states like Kentucky, home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are facing other market pressures.
“It costs five to ten times more in labor to extract coal there than from open pit mines in Wyoming,” he said. “People are being put out of work by cheaper coal.”
Glorian Berk questioned whether the government could be trusted to give the money back to the American people.
“I don’t trust the government to keep it in that pot, the same way Social Security was supposed to be a sacrosanct pot of money.”
“This is a fundamental issue,” said Mr. Brolin. “We’re talking about the health of the planet here. The alternative is to do nothing. If we do nothing, then our great, great, great-grandchildren are really in trouble.”
“I’ve always respected the ability of the League [of Women Voters], which everyone recognizes as being nonpartisan and thoughtful,” he said. “The national League has a policy statement on their website that we have to do something about climate change, but they don’t say what. This is a what.”