By Rose Hendricks and Mark Reynolds
In the home stretch of the 2020 campaign, presidential candidate Joe Biden leaned hard into the issue of climate change, giving a televised climate speech and running climate-focused ads in swing states. His campaign bet that this issue, once considered politically risky, would now be a winner.
That bet paid off. The votes have been tallied, and candidate Biden is now president-elect Biden. But, as is often the case, his party doesn’t have unified control across the whole federal government. President Biden will govern alongside a Democratic House, a conservative Supreme Court, and a Senate that could either have a slim Republican or Democratic majority. That makes “working together” the order of the day.
Encouragingly, Biden understands that people of any party can and do care about climate change. In a speech this fall, he said, “Hurricanes don’t swerve to avoid red states or blue states. Wildfires don’t skip towns that voted a certain way. The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. It’s not a partisan phenomenon, and our response should be the same.”
Some Republicans in the Senate are expressing similar opinions. In October 2020, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) participated in a climate policy webinar with her climate-hawk colleague, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). She noted that bipartisanship gives a policy longevity, so she said, “Let’s work in a way that is going to get the support that you need from both Republicans and Democrats.”
Fortunately, there are effective climate policies with bipartisan support on the table already. One such policy we should enact is a carbon fee. Congress could charge a fee or price on all oil, gas and coal we use in the United States based on the greenhouse gas emissions they produce. Putting that price on pollution will steer our country toward cleaner options, slashing our harmful emissions across many areas of our economy at once. The revenue from this type of policy can even be given to Americans on a regular basis—a “carbon cashback,” if you will, that would put money in people’s pockets while we transition to a clean-energy economy.
Our leaders here in Virginia are signaling their readiness to enact a carbon fee with a dividend. In September, Senator Mark Warner stated “I do believe it’s time to put a price on carbon.”
In October, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton stated “I think it’s time also that we explore the issue of carbon dividends, to use market forces to incentivize the use of renewable energy over dirty fossil fuel.”
Carbon fee legislation like this exists in Congress now, known as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763). Congressman Gerry Connolly has co-sponsored H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, and General Assembly members Ghazala Hashmi, Sam Rasoul, Dave Marsden, Ken Plum, Ibraheem Samirah, Rodney Willett and Dan Helmer have endorsed it.
Virginians are ready for our elected officials to push forward to make this legislation the law of the land. With the incoming president clearly committed to addressing climate change, and millions of Americans eager for solutions, now is the time to act. Congress should seize the opportunity.
Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization working to generate the political will for a livable world. Rose Hendricks, PhD, is a volunteer and co-leader of the Fairfax County chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. She’s a social scientist who has studied climate communications.