Opinion Columns & Blogs

This Earth Day, lawmakers should support an end to ‘socialized soot’

Throwback to Earth Day 2000: Leonardo DiCaprio says we need to make climate change a priority

Seventeen years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio was the chairman of Earth Day 2000. He stressed that if we don't make climate change a priority entering into the 21 century, we are “creating our own scenario for disaster.”
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Seventeen years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio was the chairman of Earth Day 2000. He stressed that if we don't make climate change a priority entering into the 21 century, we are “creating our own scenario for disaster.”

When former South Carolina Republican Congressman Bob Inglis was in State College in February to speak at Penn State’s “Sustainability Showcase,” he called for an end to “socialized soot.”

The fossil-fuel industry gets a free pass on the health, environmental and national defense costs of its products. While profits are safely privatized, many of the industry’s costs are socialized — borne by society at large.

Inglis, who for 12 years represented what he calls “the reddest district in America’s reddest state,” called for expiration of the biggest energy subsidy of all: the socialization of soot.

For many decades, we have enjoyed the benefits of coal, oil and gas without dealing with their consequences. Today we know that climate change carries health, economic and environmental costs. Yet in most places, there is no financial penalty for adding to the carbon dioxide that pushes climate change. And as long as carbon pollution remains free, the true costs of fossil fuels will be hidden, and will appear cheaper than low-carbon substitutes.

But this Earth Day, there is a bill before the U.S. House of Representatives that could help enormously. Passage of the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (HR 763) would reduce carbon emissions by at least 40 percent in 12 years.

The legislation would put a $15-per-ton fee on carbon production to be collected by the Department of the Treasury at the first point of sale: the coal mine, the oil refinery and the gas well. The fee would rise by $10 per ton yearly.

The government, however, would not keep the money. The funds collected would be distributed to each U.S. household in equal, monthly per-person dividends. The concept is revenue-neutral. It does not grow the size of government.

The powerful price mechanism will move energy companies, industries and consumers toward cleaner, cheaper, energy options. It does not depend on government regulations to control fossil-fuel emissions. It is a market-based solution that will spur innovation.

For that reason, the idea has bipartisan support. Earlier this year, 45 top economists from across the political spectrum endorsed the broad concept of carbon fee and dividend in a letter to The Wall Street Journal.

Almost every Republican and Democratic chair of the Council of Economic Advisers since the 1970s signed the letter. Three former chairs of the Federal Reserve signed it: Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen.

“Among economists, this is not controversial,” said Greg Mankiw, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, as quoted in The Washington Post. “The politics is complicated ... but the economics is really simple.”

Far from being an employment killer, the transition to renewable energy will be a net job creator. Economic modeling studies indicate it would create 2.1 million jobs over the next 10 years, thanks to growth in the clean-energy economy.

And the monthly dividend will protect citizens during the transition. About two-thirds of Americans, mostly the middle class and the poor, will either break even or come out ahead due to the dividend.

HR 763 is effective, good for people, good for the economy, bipartisan and revenue-neutral. It puts an end to socialized soot. Congressman Glenn Thompson should support it. And the winner of the May 21 special election for the 12th Congressional District seat, either Democrat Marc Friedenberg or Republican Fred Keller, should back it, also.

Richard W. Jones, of State College, is active in the State College chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
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