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Commentary: National legislation on climate springs from local actions

Smoke billows from smokestacks near Emmett, Kansas in 2012.
In this Dec. 2, 2012 file photo, smoke billows from smokestacks near Emmett, Kansas. Efforts to reduce emissions by charging fossil fuel companies for carbon are gaining support.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

The devastating impacts of climate change are on full display in Orange County as well as across the nation, and around the world. As sea levels rise, coastal communities are under threat. Sunset Beach and Newport Beach are experiencing more high tide flooding. Dana Point and San Clemente are watching cliff sides erode and beaches disappear. Inland, Irvine and Tustin are battling wildfires. All of us in Orange County are suffering from more frequent and intense heat waves. The need for action on climate has never seemed more urgent.

Many have known for years that the transition from a fossil-fueled economy to one powered by clean energy is the biggest challenge facing humankind. Yet action has nevertheless been impeded and delayed for decades by  the influence of  fossil fuel interests  upon politicians and the media. Well-funded sophisticated campaigns have  falsely denied the problem of climate change or fostered a sense of hopelessness about it. Finally, it appears that this longstanding period of national paralysis may change. The year 2021 may be the one when Congress finally acts.

President Biden has made the climate crisis a central priority and is determined to include mitigation policies in his new infrastructure plans. As our leaders in Washington go about determining the final package of climate policies to enact, we should be aware that we’ve reached this pivotal moment because of pressures emanating from local communities just like ours, all around the country.

Here in Orange County, there has been a groundswell of support for the market-based carbon-pricing solution detailed in the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (HR-2307). Huntington Beach has now joined Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Brea and Laguna Beach to urge congressional support for this promising legislation. In her July 13, 2021, letter reporting the city’s action, Mayor Kim Carr said, “This bill would help achieve net zero emissions by 2050 by imposing a fee on the producers and importers of greenhouse gas emitting fuels, rather than putting the burden on American families.” And further, “Cities like ours understand the importance of innovative strategies to create a sustainable future, while ensuring that American families do not take on the economic burden of this transition.” This legislation, she says, “will help families to thrive in a carbon neutral economy.”

This legislation has also gained broad support from Orange County’s congressional delegation. Five of the seven members of Congress who represent areas of Orange County, Democrats Linda Sanchez, Katie Porter, Lou Correa, Alan Lowenthal and Mike Levin, are cosponsors of this promising legislation. Since previous versions of this bill have had bipartisan cosponsors, we urge Republican Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim to consider adding their support.

While solving the climate crisis will require a variety of government policies, scientists and economists have long favored policies that make fossil fuel companies pay an increasing fee on their carbon pollution, distribute the revenue to American households, and establish a border carbon tariff to incentivize all nations, including China, to adopt similar policies. This approach, embodied in HR-2307, is widely understood to be the single most effective and fair way for our nation and the nations of the world to reach net zero emissions by 2050, a goal scientists say is crucial.

Polling shows that Americans of every political stripe now favor this approach to reducing emissions, with majority support in both very red and very blue districts. Major business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce  and the Business Roundtable, have expressed support for a market-based approach to emissions reductions. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are calling on Congress to implement a rising carbon price. By shifting the economic incentives away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy, a carbon price will strengthen our economy, make businesses more energy efficient, spur new sources of renewable energy, add millions of new jobs and save lives by reducing pollution.

If, as expected, Congress enacts climate legislation this year that includes carbon pricing at the center of its mitigation plans, we will know who to thank. It will have happened because of the persistence and determination of local climate activists and the courage and good judgment of local city councils and Congressional representatives.

The writer is an environmental journalist and a volunteer with the Orange County Coast Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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