Democrats and Republicans want to tax pollution — and give the money back to you

The bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would tax carbon emissions and return the money raised to every American in the form of a dividend.
The bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would tax carbon emissions and return the money raised to every American in the form of a dividend. AP

President Donald Trump said “I don’t see” the dangers of climate change that were included in a report released by his own administration. Voters in Democratic-controlled Washington state rejected a tax on carbon at the polls earlier this month. And a host of climate-minded Republicans, including Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo, lost reelection and won’t be returning to Congress next year.

But a group of lawmakers on both sides see a politically palatable way to tax pollution: give the money collected from polluters back to every American in the form of a dividend.

That’s the big idea behind the latest piece of climate change legislation proposed by Florida Democrats Ted Deutch and Charlie Crist and Florida Republican Francis Rooney. The three House members were part of a five-member group that unveiled the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act on Wednesday, a sweeping bill that would tax carbon emissions and return the money raised by the tax to everyone.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch

“The goal was to craft a climate proposal that will be a huge leap forward in the way America responds to climate change,” Deutch said. “In South Florida, climate change is not a political issue. Our hope is with the introduction of the legislation that Congress shows that it can understand that as well.”

The carbon tax introduced Wednesday is unlikely to become law this Congress, because all bills that aren’t passed and signed by the president in the next month will expire. But the group of lawmakers see the bill’s introduction as a starting point for climate change discussions in the coming Congress, where Democrats will control the House while Republicans control the Senate and the White House.

“We thought it was important to introduce this now to show that as we prepare to head into what will be a more bipartisan Congress that there is a bipartisan way forward on this issue,” Deutch said. “It’s the only way that we can get anything done.”

The bill aims to reduce carbon pollution by 40 percent within 10 years with a 91 percent reduction by 2050. Polluters would be charged $15 per metric ton of carbon emitted, and the price would increase by $10 every year. Instead of using the tax to fund government programs, the money from polluters would return the revenue back to everyone in the form of a dividend that would offset the potential for higher energy costs.

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Republican U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney

“The introduction of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act provides a clear proof of concept that a conservative-inspired carbon dividends framework can attract bipartisan support,” said Ted Halstead, the CEO of the Climate Leadership Council, a group comprised of oil companies and other business interests who want a carbon tax in exchange for fewer environmental regulations. “It is no coincidence that the first bipartisan climate bill in nearly a decade is based on carbon dividends. A carbon dividends plan that returns all revenues to the American people is uniquely capable of appealing to all sides of the climate debate.”

Dan Richter, the vice president of legislation and research for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, said the bill differs from the effort in Washington state that was rejected by voters to implement a carbon tax because that effort was only supported by Democrats. Oil companies also spent millions on a campaign to defeat the proposal, which ultimately failed by 12 percentage points.

Rooney said a carbon tax would primarily affect coal producers.

“A revenue-neutral carbon fee is an efficient, market-driven incentive to move toward natural gas and away from coal, and to support emerging alternate sources of energy,” Rooney said.

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Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist Joe Burbank MCT

The bill differs from a proposal by Curbelo earlier this year that would have implemented a higher tax on carbon and used the money raised by the tax to fund infrastructure projects and offer a dividend for Americans below a certain income threshold, as opposed to everyone.

“We probably are from the state that is the most susceptible to rising sea levels, so that’s why this bill is so important,” Crist said.

Alex Daugherty is the Washington correspondent for the Miami Herald, covering South Florida from the nation’s capital. Previously, he worked as the Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for the Herald covering politics in Miami.