07.08.19

Time to Wake Up: The Case for Carbon Pricing

You’ve just heard two colleagues make convincing and passionate arguments for putting a price on carbon, the central protection from climate crisis.  A price on carbon like we propose would dramatically lower emissions, and put us on a net zero-by-2050 path — the path necessary to avoid the worst climate chaos. 

Because it’s a price on pollution, we can dial it up or dial it down, as climate chaos worsens or abates.

Because our proposal is border-adjustable, it would let American industry compete even in countries without a price on carbon. 

And because our plan is revenue neutral, all funds go back to the American people in the form of payroll tax credits, Social Security or VA benefits, or grants to states to navigate the transition.     

So you may be asking, if our plan is so good, how come it isn’t already law?  Or, why aren’t there Senate committee hearings on it?  Or, where are the bipartisan negotiations?

Well to answer those questions, you have to look at who’s supporting carbon pricing, and who’s opposed.

Let’s start with the good news:  who’s supporting it.

[Chart 1 – WSJ op-ed]

Earlier this year, 27 winners of the Nobel Prize in economics, 15 former chairs of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors (a majority of them Republicans), four former chairs of the Federal Reserve (two of them Republicans), and two former Secretaries of the Treasury (one of them Republican), in the Wall Street Journal no less, endorsed a border-adjustable price on carbon with revenues returned to the American people. 

In other words, a carbon price very like our bill.

[Chart 2 – Milton Friedman Quote]

Even the patron saint of conservative economists, the late Milton Friedman, himself a Nobel Prize winner, made the case that it is proper for government to put a price on pollution.

“[T]he best way to do it,” he said, “is to impose a tax on the cost of the pollutants...and make an incentive for...manufacturers and for consumers to keep down the amount of pollution.”

[Chart 3 – NYT op-ed]

Four former Republican Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, for Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes, advocated for a price on carbon in the New York Times.

[Chart 4 – Corporate Support for Carbon Pricing]

There’s burgeoning support in the business community.  In May, dozens of companies, with a combined market capitalization of nearly $2.5 trillion, came to Congress to advocate for a price on carbon.  CEOs of 13 major corporations recently announced the formation of the CEO Climate Dialogue to do the same.

[Chart 5 – Chart re risk warnings]

The CEOs may be responding to an explosion of warnings, coming from economic regulators, national banks, and risk analysts, that we are headed for economic perils if climate change is not addressed with an effective, predictable remedy — like a price on carbon emissions.

[Chart 6 – Pope Francis]

Last month, even Pope Francis convened a two-day summit at the Vatican on climate change, where he urged governments, businesses — and oil companies — to get serious about climate change; and to follow carbon pricing as the smart path forward, calling it essential. 

Pope Francis is not alone among religious leaders in seeing a moral imperative here. 

  • The head of the Church of England stated that “[r]educing the causes of climate change is essential to the life of faith. It is a way to love our neighbour and to steward the gift of creation.” 
  • Two hundred thirty-two evangelical pastors from 44 states declared, “[l]ove of God, love of neighbor, and the demands of stewardship are more than enough reason for evangelical Christians to respond to the climate change problem with moral passion and concrete action.” 
  • Forty-three rabbis from around the world stated that “Jewish teachings mandate that we do everything possible to help avert a climate catastrophe and other environmental disasters and to help shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path.”
  • Likewise, leaders and scholars of the Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist faiths have urged climate action, including pricing carbon.

With all this support, particularly from so many Republicans, you’d think that carbon pricing would be a no-brainer here in Congress, that we would certainly be at work on something! 

Unfortunately, you would be wrong.  The bad news is: who’s opposed to carbon pricing — and what dirty tools they bring to the job.

[Chart 7 – Front Group Letter]

Here’s one example.

Last month, hints of interest appeared from a few Senate Republicans in carbon pricing, and suddenly an “open letter” appeared opposing carbon pricing.  The letter was signed by lots of entities with happy-sounding names like Americans for Tax Reform, Americans for Prosperity, or Citizens Against Government Waste.  Such nice names.  You might think that this letter represents grass-roots popular opposition to carbon pricing. 

You would be wrong.

These groups have a common identifier — they keep their funding sources secret.  But skilled investigative journalists and researchers have spent countless hours digging through corporate tax filings and other documents to unearth the funders.

Guess what:  the vast majority of the groups are funded with fossil fuel money.  They are front groups. 

We added it up, and the groups behind this letter received collectively over half a billion dollars from groups linked to the fossil fuel billionaire Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and other fossil fuel interests.

Half a billion dollars is a lot, but that’s just what the researchers could find; just the tip of the iceberg.  Because these front groups hide their funding so well, the true number is probably several times that — probably billions of dollars. 

Sounds disgusting, doesn’t it, but why wouldn’t the fossil fuel industry spend a few billion dollars to block climate action in Congress?  The annual U.S. subsidy for fossil fuel was most recently estimated by the International Monetary Fund at $650 billion.  Against that, a few billion is a rounding error.

Here’s one example from that flotilla of front-group signatories:  Americans for Tax Reform, with its president, Grover Norquist, who claim to represent the regular taxpayer.  Hogwash. 

Americans for Tax Reform has received over $5 million from Koch-linked groups and over $800,000 from the American Petroleum Institute.  They are hired guns wearing masks. 

And that group is just one tentacle of the fossil-fuel climate denial apparatus.  They’ve even taken over the so-called United States Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, and turned those groups into fossil fuel zombies. 

It’s time to say enough.

I ask my colleagues to please take a sincere look at climate change and carbon pricing; and look at who is saying what. 

On one side, you have the moral authority of the great religions;

you’ve got bipartisan agreement of the world’s best economists;

you’ve got lots of Republicans (at least ones not facing election);

you’ve got lots of tough, smart business leaders;

my God, you’ve even got your own home state universities, who teach this stuff!

On the other side, you have a bunch of hired guns, hiding behind phony front-group masks, funded with fossil fuel money.

Who’re you gonna trust? 

Pope Francis, or the oily, secretive Koch brothers? 

Milton Friedman, or fossil-fuel hit man Grover Norquist? 

The International Monetary Fund, or ExxonMobil, the company which has lied for decades about climate change? 

Front groups who hide their donors — is that not a clue?

Can we as a body — as a Senate of the United States — really not discern where the conflict of interest lies, where the record of lying lies? 

Look, the climate crisis is real and it’s accelerating. 

Bad as it is already, we’re just in the opening credits.  It’s getting worse.

The pages sitting here on the Senate Floor know this.  The rest of their lives will be spent coping with the consequences of our failure, the failure of the grown-ups, the sickening failure of the grown-ups. 

We’ve got to get going here.

Look, we’re trying to do it your way.  Pretty much every Republican who has thought this climate problem through to a solution comes to the same place:  a revenue-neutral, border-adjustable carbon price. 

That’s what we’ve offered.  We can’t come much further than that.

We are reaching out, we are trying to do it your way; but the answer back can’t be dictated by a fossil fuel industry that has spent billions to deny and obscure the facts, an industry that to this day fights from behind a facade of lies. 

They have lied to you and lied to you, and you should cut them loose. 

We’re all just back from the 4th of July — how about an Independence Day for the Republican Party from the rotten reign of the fossil fuel industry?  Just cut ‘em loose.

Let’s do the job we’ve been given as Senators of the United States. 

We’ve reached over as far as we know how.  Is there really not one of you who will reach back?

I yield the floor.