Guest Columnist

Climate change is a winning issue, Iowa Republicans should take note

Carbon fee legislation has support from people and organizations across the political spectrum

A Republican campaign event in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A Republican campaign event in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

In the home stretch of the 2020 campaign, presidential candidate Joe Biden leaned hard into the issue of climate change, giving a televised climate speech and running climate-focused ads in swing states. His campaign bet that this issue, once considered politically risky, would now be a winner.

That bet paid off. The votes have been tallied, and candidate Biden is now president-elect Biden. But, as is often the case, his party doesn’t have unified control across the whole federal government. President Biden will govern alongside a Democratic House, a conservative Supreme Court, and a Senate that could either have a slim Republican or Democratic majority. That makes “working together” the order of the day.

Encouragingly, Biden understands that people of any party can and do care about climate change. In a speech this fall, he said, “Hurricanes don’t swerve to avoid red states or blue states. Wildfires don’t skip towns that voted a certain way. The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. It’s not a partisan phenomenon, and our response should be the same.”

Some Republicans in the Senate are expressing similar opinions. In October 2020, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) participated in a climate policy webinar with her climate-hawk colleague, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). She noted that bipartisanship gives a policy longevity, so she said, “Let’s work in a way that is going to get the support that you need from both Republicans and Democrats.”

Our leaders here in Iowa are signaling their readiness to work on climate change, too. “We’re hearing from our members of Congress that they’re interested in exploring climate solutions,” says Eric Johnson, leader of the Iowa City chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

These notable voices are responding to an incredible swell of public demand for climate action. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, the number of Americans who are “alarmed” about climate change has more than doubled in recent years, from 11 percent of Americans in 2015 to 26 percent in 2020. All told, 54 percent of Americans are either “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change. And here in Iowa, 72 percent of citizens support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

Frankly, those numbers make sense. This year has made it starkly obvious that climate change is here and already hurting Americans. More than 5 million acres have burned across Western states this year, displacing thousands of people. The Southeast has been battered by a record-breaking hurricane season, where storm after storm makes landfall before communities even have time to recover from the previous one. We need to move as quickly as we can to address the root cause of these extreme events: excess greenhouse gas emissions.

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One fast-acting, effective climate policy we should enact is a carbon fee. Congress could charge a fee or price on all oil, gas and coal we use in the United States based on the greenhouse gas emissions they produce. Putting that price on pollution will steer our country toward cleaner options, slashing our harmful emissions across many areas of our economy at once. The revenue from this type of policy can even be given to Americans on a regular basis — a “carbon cashback,” if you will, that would put money in people’s pockets while we transition to a clean-energy economy.

Carbon fee legislation like this exists in Congress now, known as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763). It has support from people and organizations across the political spectrum. In our area, both the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and the City of Iowa City support the policy.

Our community is ready for Joni Ernst, Chuck Grassley, Ashley Hinson, Cindy Axne, Randy Feenstra, and whoever wins District 2 to push forward to make this legislation the law of the land. With the incoming president clearly committed to addressing climate change, and millions of Americans eager for solutions, now is the time to act. Congress should seize the opportunity.

Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Eric Johnson is leader of the Iowa City Climate Advocates.

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