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Opinion: America needs leaders who can unite the nation on climate change

The good news is that we have a market based solution: an economywide carbon fee

Two women walk on the beach near Saltair on the Great Salt Lake on Sunday, April 12, 2020.
Two women walk on the beach near Saltair on the Great Salt Lake on Sunday, April 12, 2020. A combination of drought and population growth along the Wasatch Front have sent lake levels to historic lows.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Here’s what we learned in 2021 about addressing climate change: a partisan approach will never work.

Democrats tried and failed to push through their climate agenda without broad support. Even if they can eventually revive and pass the “Build Back Better” legislation this year, it doesn’t offer enough free-market solutions and will not be able to cut emissions enough without expensive and damaging government regulation.

This lack of a united vision and broad political support all but guarantees a future path of more regulation as Democrats try to realize their climate ambitions through other means. Regulation will only complicate the business environment and breed more mistrust between the parties around this issue. And it’s all because Democrats decided to go it alone.

It is now clearer than ever that we must rise above partisanship to advance an effective national solution. Utah’s economy and way of life depend on it. Between worsening winter inversions and summers plagued by triple-digit heat and wildfire smoke, our future as a great place to live, work and recreate is at risk.

The good news is that we have a market based solution: an economywide carbon fee. A carbon fee would cut emissions faster than any other single policy under consideration without adding a dime to the federal deficit. At the same time, it delivers a stable environment for businesses while sending them a steady signal to innovate. Surely Utahns — and all Americans — can get behind a policy that encourages breakthroughs by giving the fuels and technologies of the future a fair shake in the marketplace.

We don’t need to wait on this policy just because inflation is on the rise. Places with a carbon price or fee, like Canada and the United Kingdom, have not experienced inflation as a result, according to recent research. In fact, a carbon fee has shown to have had a mild deflationary effect, as consumers and businesses have substituted away from high-carbon to low-carbon goods.

Given our economic challenges, an economywide carbon fee could be just what the doctor ordered. American industries are some of the cleanest in the world, yet we hold our door wide open to imports from high-polluting markets such as China. This amounts to punishing U.S. manufacturers for all the investments they have made to reduce emissions.

We can turn this situation around by applying a similar carbon price on imports at the border. This would grow our industries and reduce imports from high-polluting markets such as China. It also would compel other major economies to do their part to solve climate change. As Utah Sen. Mitt Romney put it recently, “We can negotiate with the Chinese, or we can simply have a border adjustment tax that recognizes that they put a lot more pollution in the air.”

Thanks to all these advantages, momentum for pricing carbon is building like never before. All we need is a leader — or group of leaders — who are willing to rise to the occasion, reach across party lines and unify America behind this commonsense solution.

This may sound like a tall order, but it is absolutely within our reach, and sooner than you may think. Our county has accomplished the impossible before when leaders have set aside politics to do what’s right for the country. That’s what the climate clean air challenge demands today, and it’s what we can achieve once we put our minds to it.

In many ways, Utah is leading the way. Rep. John Curtis deserves much credit for helping to steer his GOP colleagues toward meaningful solutions. Meanwhile, few people have spoken with as much credibility as Romney on the power of a carbon fee and border carbon adjustment to spur breakthroughs and put pressure on China to reduce emissions.

As we turn the page on a disappointing year for climate, let’s work toward a cleaner future. We now have clarity that the parties must work together on an effective national solution — and we have the solution. All we need Is someone to take it and run with it.

Bill Rappleye is president and CEO of the Draper Area Chamber of Commerce