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Congressman Zinke: We need a sharp scalpel

by Robin Paone and Kristen Walser
| March 26, 2024 12:00 AM

We know this sounds preposterous, but please hear us out. We are urging you to ask Congressman Ryan Zinke to vote no on his own House Concurrent Resolution 86, “Expressing the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy.”

No one wants to hurt the U.S. economy, right?

We also know carbon pollution from fossil fuels stays in the atmosphere. It is causing the planet to overheat dangerously and bringing extreme weather. We don’t want more of that either.

The problem is, proposing that members of Congress should vote against any carbon tax is like banning surgeons from using scalpels to remove tumors. We couldn’t agree more that surgeons shouldn’t use blunt or rusty scalpels, but we’ve got sharp, clean ones that could do the job today.

Let us explain. There is no monolithic carbon tax. Sure, all the carbon pricing bills in Congress now, including one by Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, focus on putting a price on carbon pollution. We all pay to get rid of our trash. It isn’t right that we allow some bad actors to pollute for free in a way that costs us all.

After that price-on-carbon baseline, you can tinker with a host of variables, for instance: how much you charge, how it changes over time, when does it sunset, when is the goal reached, and where is it collected. By the way, a pollution fine collected at the mine or well (upstream) is the easiest tack.

The biggest variable, however, is what do you do with the eye-popping amount of revenue. An analysis of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 5744) says a modest but rising fee could generate 2 trillion dollars in the first 10 years.

By the way, H.R.5744 is a “Carbon Fee and Cashback” bill and would require all revenue be returned to households in equal monthly payments. Studies show the cashback would cover all added costs for 95% of those with lower incomes, and 85% for those with middle incomes.

Getting money in your pocket every month, hey, that doesn’t sound like a tax, does it? The Canadians passed their national carbon fee and cashback law in 2018 and they receive a quarterly Canada Carbon Rebate. It’s working for them.

Does this policy really hurt the economy? Economists agree a well-designed carbon fee and cash back would actually modestly increase jobs and GDP. With less pollution our health will improve, lessening healthcare costs and missed work days. People can spend the monthly cashback however they want, improving our local economy.

With this tumor called “out-of-control extreme weather” growing, we need sharp scalpels and targeted chemo, too! A commonsense and nonpartisan price on carbon can stop the pollution that is overheating our planet and at the same time benefit our communities.

Kristen Walser, Bozeman, and Robin Paone, Whitefish, are Citizens’ Climate Lobby Chapter co-leaders.