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Guest opinion: Want a new American Dream? Put a price on carbon

FILE - In this April 25, 2016, file photo, an electric Fiat plugged into a charging station in a parking lot in Los Angeles. California utilities will invest nearly $768 million to expand a network of charging stations and other infrastructure for electri
In this April 25, 2016, file photo, an electric Fiat plugged into a charging station in a parking lot in Los Angeles.
Richard Vogel

Oh beautiful for spacious skies, God shed his grace on thee. And we’ve gone and filled that grace with smoke and smog. How dare we?

2018 will be remembered as the year that climate change and its effect became mainstream. The day-after-day near-100 degree weather, the lessening snowpacks that turn our purple mountain majesty to tinder, the deepening droughts here and abroad, the superstorms, the rising seas. Research institutions across the political spectrum — Yale, George Mason, Stanford — independently confirmed nearly 70 percent of Americans agree that climate change is caused by humans burning fossil fuels.

But it’s not our fault. What choices do we have? There’s very little clean power in our utilities mix, and unless we have money to burn, we’ve little choice but to burn gasoline and diesel instead to power our cars, buses, trains and trucks.

But this is America. Land of brains, brawn and invention. Why is it we have such little choice about our air? We invented choice. We’re brilliant technologists. Who invented the telephone? Americans. Who mass-produced the first automobile, and made it affordable? Americans. Who invented the first mass-market personal computer, landed first on the moon, invented the internet and smartphones?

Who installed over 53 gigawatts of solar and 20 GW of wind energy in 2017 and 2018 to address their chronic air, water and waste pollution? China. China ranks number one in total solar generation at 131 GW. The U.S. is a distant third with an estimated 51 GW.

American research institutions and corporations spearheaded every major innovation in solar and wind, yet we’re late-in-the-day adopters. Nearly 30 years ago, I started my career at a NASA Technology Transfer Center where I helped pitch a self-charging electric wheel to NASA. Detroit wasn’t interested.

Why has clean energy lagged behind in America, especially given the looming threats of climate change? Why don’t we have viable options to gasoline vehicles? Because free markets respond to one thing: return on investment. It takes investment to build solar and wind generators. It takes investment to build smart grids, smart meters, smarter electric vehicles and charging stations for highways. It takes investment to retrain oil and coal workers. In order for corporations to make these investments, they must have confidence in demand. We can ensure demand in these emerging markets by putting a price on carbon.

I want to put a price on carbon so that automakers are incentivized to bring technologies already in the pipeline to life and re-tool their assembly lines to produce EVs that fit lifestyles and budgets. I want to put a price on carbon so that corporations are incentivized to clean up their bottom line. I want to put a price on carbon so that I can breathe something besides smoke. And nearly 70 percent of Americans want a carbon tax too.

Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo (Florida) and Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania) introduced a national carbon pricing bill in July. While its proposed fee of $24 per ton of emissions wouldn’t do enough to curb climate change, I commend them for starting the conversation.

In Utah, state Reps. Becky Edwards (Republican), Dixon Pitcher (Republican) and Joel Briscoe (Democrat), co-sponsored a bill (HB403) to tax carbon. The revenue would improve local air quality and eliminate the state sales tax on groceries. It will likely be reintroduced this year.

We have the brains and brawn. We must summon the political will. It’s an election year. Speak up. Call your representative and ask them to jump into the conversation about carbon tax. Remind them, Americans across the board agree, it’s time. Help fill God’s grace with some fresh air.