WASHINGTON – Two Democratic senators will unveil a bill on Thursday to curb climate change by slapping a fee on oil, natural gas and coal and delivering most of the revenue to low- and middle-income Americans, one of the lawmakers said.
Sen. Chris Coons said on Wednesday he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein will introduce the Climate Action Rebate Act, which aims to generate $2.5 trillion in revenues over 10 years starting in 2020. It would rebate about 70 percent of the money to families that make less than $130,000 per year, and use the rest for energy infrastructure, job retraining for fossil fuel workers, and research and development.
U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, rejects climate science and has slashed regulations on oil and gas drillers and coal miners. That has made climate a big issue in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, although none of the senators running have yet signed onto the Coons carbon tax bill.
Coons said he is talking with Senate colleagues from both parties and Democrats running for president to build support. It will be an uphill battle to get enough votes to pass in the Republican-led 100-member chamber.
The Green New Deal, a plan to tackle climate change backed by left-leaning Democrats including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, has grabbed the attention of many environmentalists with its aggressive goal of cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2030. But wind and solar power companies have criticized it as unrealistic and politically divisive.
Coons, a centrist, hopes his bill will channel much of the enthusiasm for the Green New Deal into practical solutions. The bill is a “serious legislative attempt at taking bold vision and turning it into a specific, enactable, concrete strategy,” he said.
The idea of a carbon tax, which aims to level the playing field for emissions-free energy, such as solar and wind power, by adding costs to fossil fuels, has been embraced by a wide range of economists from conservatives to liberals.
The Coons bill would cut U.S. carbon emissions 55 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050 compared to 2017 levels, a more modest goal than that of the Green New Deal.
A carbon tax is also supported by a number of senior Republicans, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Shultz.
Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesman for the Sunrise Movement, a youth coalition that helped put the Green New Deal in the media spotlight, said a carbon tax can be part of the solution, but more massive changes are needed to get the energy system off fossil fuels.
A Marist Poll this month showed 63 percent of Americans believed that the Green New Deal was a good idea, versus 50 percent who thought a carbon tax was.
“Any politician serious about passing climate action on the scale we need has got to take note” of the support for more aggressive action, O’Hanlon said.
Last year Coons introduced a carbon tax bill with Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who has since retired.
A companion carbon tax bill will be introduced in the other chamber of Congress, the Democratic-led House of Representatives, on Thursday.