Opinion: Utah’s leaders should unite behind a carbon fee and dividend
Through a simple market price-signal, this would incentivize U.S. technology investment and innovation. It would encourage everybody to make the easy, low-hanging decisions that improve energy efficiency
As a young person deeply invested in the climate issue, I am worried that enduring partisanship is holding up action on this major challenge for our country. With so many climate promises and so little to show for it, partisan games are clearly standing in the way of Congress getting down to business on actual solutions.
What’s needed is leadership — leadership that can chart a path forward with both parties in creating a cleaner and more resilient economy. While getting Republicans and Democrats to agree on climate may seem like a tall order, I am optimistic that it can be achieved.
The key is seeking out consensus solutions built around sound economic principles. They are most likely to earn the trust of leaders on both sides by tackling the problem efficiently and effectively, while also growing the economy. For this reason, I see the carbon dividends approach as the most promising solution.
The carbon dividends plan would cut emissions with the least cost to the economy by charging fossil fuel companies a gradually rising fee for their emissions. Through a simple market price-signal, this would incentivize U.S. technology investment and innovation. It would encourage everybody to make the easy, low-hanging decisions that improve energy efficiency and cut down on carbon. Taken together, these choices add up to large economywide emissions reductions: in less than 15 years, this plan would slash U.S. carbon emissions by more than half.
Importantly, this plan also addresses the international dimension of the climate challenge. By placing a fee at the border on high-polluting foreign goods, this approach would raise global participation by aligning our climate actions with our allies and holding climate laggards accountable. This “border carbon adjustment’ mechanism would boost American manufacturing and ensure the U.S. is competing on a level international playing field, all as we take action here at home.
Finally, the plan would streamline regulations and return revenue from the carbon fee back to the American people as direct “dividend” checks. This would limit the growth of government and help ensure that lower-and middle-income households are protected from any shifts in energy prices.
Considered in sum, it’s no wonder the carbon dividends model has earned sweeping support across the country. Nationally, a broad coalition of stakeholders has lined up behind the plan, including top environmental organizations, businesses, and thought leaders of all political stripes. In addition, more than 3,500 U.S. economists have endorsed this approach, including economics faculty members from Utah’s universities.
Here in Utah, mayors, state representatives, entrepreneurs and business owners, chamber of commerce officials, and student leaders are out in force on carbon dividends, too. Last spring, I joined fellow student body presidents across the state, representing more than 180,000 college students, in calling for action on carbon dividends. Since then, top Utah high school leaders have joined the fray as well, stepping out in support of this solution.
This broad support is unheard of for a climate policy and gives us hope that progress can be achieved. We can get a lot farther — and ensure a more steady, stable energy transition— by working together on a bipartisan solution.
Even still, a broadly supported plan needs champions in Congress who can guide the way. I have been heartened that our own leaders have taken up the mantle of leadership on the climate issue, including Sen. Mitt Romney and Reps. John Curtis and Blake Moore. Each of them has helped advance the conversation in Congress — including through the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus and recently launched Conservative Climate Caucus.
As a Utah student leader, I know how important the climate issue is to young people across the state. I also know we need tangible solutions befitting the scale of the challenge — crucially a strategy like carbon dividends.
With political gamesmanship standing in the way of progress, our Utah Congressional leaders can pave a smarter, more effective pathway. As they do, the next generation of Utahns will have their backs every step of the way.
Nouman Kante is the 2021-22 student body president of Southern Utah University and president of the statewide Utah Student Association.