Putting price on carbon emissions is the best way to reduce greenhouse gases

The newly passed first comprehensive climate legislation in our nation’s history is a bold step. Now take the next one.

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., stands silently during a press conference on the the Inflation Reduction Act at Glynwood Boat House on August 17 in Cold Spring, New York.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., stands silently during a press conference on the the Inflation Reduction Act at Glynwood Boat House on August 17 in Cold Spring, New York.

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Thanks to decisive action by our Democratic representatives in Washington, the first comprehensive climate legislation in our nation’s history became law last week.

By passing the Inflation Reduction Act, our elected officials took a bold step that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 40% below 2005 levels by 2030, while improving the lives of millions of people in Illinois and the nation. 

This long-sought breakthrough on climate legislation was made possible by nonpartisan, grassroots support from organizations like ours. Over the past year, Citizens’ Climate Lobby supporters generated more than 200,000 letters and phone calls to members of Congress urging passage of a reconciliation bill that contains strong climate provisions. Members of other advocacy groups also urged Congress to tackle climate. This victory was won by concerned citizens who made their voices heard in Washington.

As important as this new law is, it does not include a price on carbon dioxide pollution — something that our grassroots organization has urged for years, but which hasn’t gained traction in Washington.

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The new law will invest $370 billion in the development of renewable energy sources, electric vehicle tax credits, clean energy equipment manufacturing, more efficient home appliances and many other essential climate programs.

Importantly, the new law will accelerate provisions in our state’s Climate & Equitable Jobs Act, which was enacted last year. Congress put about $30 billion into the federal bill to support utilities, which fits well with CEJA’s focus on clean energy production and utilities. Besides that, the new U.S. law can help Illinois reach its goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 because of tax credits of $7,500 for new electric vehicle purchases and a $4,000 incentive on a used EV, with limits for high-income earners. 

While the bill includes a few provisions for the fossil fuel industry, like auctioning off more public land for oil drilling, it also cracks down to some degree on methane pollution — a greenhouse gas that can leak from oil fields and pipelines — by imposing a charge on those leaked emissions. The concept is simple: Discourage bad behavior by making it more expensive.

Climate legislation has yet to include a carbon fee on polluters.

Climate legislation has yet to include a carbon fee on polluters.

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The bill signed by President Joe Biden on Aug. 16 includes $60 billion to ensure that disadvantaged communities share in the benefits, such as $1 billion for clean heavy-duty vehicles that would improve the health of disproportionately affected neighborhoods in industrial areas. 

Finally, the law has funding to support forest conservation and tree planting, along with conserving and restoring coastal habitats. These are important elements for northern Illinois, with our 63-mile shoreline and 7,600 acres of parkland in Chicago alone.

Yet we remain committed to advocating for a carbon fee. Thousands of the world’s economists agree that putting a fee on carbon pollution — and distributing the money as a monthly carbon cash-back payment to households — is the most effective and equitable way of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Economists note that this simple but effective solution can stabilize climate risk, increase job opportunities, improve public health and provide a financial benefit to the most vulnerable in our society.

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The 7,000 supporters of Citizens’ Climate Lobby in Illinois and nearly 200,000 nationwide will continue our nonpartisan approach to creating the political will for a carbon fee and monthly cash-back payment as part of our efforts to address climate change. 

Climate-concerned citizens can help turn the political tide by taking action in the upcoming midterm elections: show up at campaign events, share your concerns about climate change and ask what the candidates plan to do about it. By showing up now and voting in November we can lay the groundwork for additional bold climate action in the next Congress.

Alex Marianyi and Joe Tedino are Chicago-based volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a national advocacy organization generating the political will for climate solutions.

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