Cli­mate bills sweep Wash­ing­ton

But GOP, Dems clash on ap­proach as more busi­nesses push for so­lu­tions

Houston Chronicle - - BUSINESS - By James Os­borne STAFF WRITER

WASH­ING­TON — From a car­bon pric­ing schemes to out­right frack­ing bans to tree plant­ing, a wave of leg­is­la­tion aimed at re­duc­ing green­house gas emis­sions has emerged in Congress in re­cent weeks.

Nine months be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, cli­mate change is tak­ing up greater po­lit­i­cal band­width, as in­ter­ests from across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum vie for po­si­tion on an is­sue that looks to have mon­u­men­tal im­pli­ca­tions for the the U.S. and global economies in the decades ahead.

“Politi­cians in all camps are see­ing in­creas­ing stake­holder de­mands, calls by in­dus­try and just frankly a need to do some­thing, as these ex­treme weather im­pacts keep hit­ting us” said Janet Peace, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at the think tank Cen­ter for Cli­mate and En­ergy So­lu­tions. “You used to talk about cli­mate im­pacts be­ing far in the fu­ture.”

Some the Amer­ica's largest cor­po­ra­tions, in­clud­ing Exxon Mobil, JP Mor­gan Chase and AT&T, got into the act Thurs­day, pitch­ing what they called a “bipartisan” car­bon tax plan, with the goal of de­creas­ing U.S. emis­sions 50 per­cent by 2035. In ex­change, they want a undo ex­ist­ing green­house gas reg­u­la­tions, like those re­strict­ing emis­sions from power plants, and halt any fu­ture ac­tion.

Named the Cli­mate Lead­er­ship

Council, the group is step­ping into an in­creas­ingly crowded de­bate on how best to at­tack cli­mate, whether through reg­u­la­tory schemes that set lim­its on car­bon emis­sions and im­pose penal­ties for ex­ceed­ing them, mar­ket mech­a­nisms such as taxes or cap-and­trade schemes that pro­vide eco­nomic in­cen­tives for com­pa­nies to re­duce their car­bon foot­prints or gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies to drive in­no­va­tion in tech­nolo­gies such as car­bon cap­ture and next gen­er­a­tion nu­clear re­ac­tors.

Sen. Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont, a Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. and Rep. Alexandria Oca­sio-Cortez, D-New York, have re­cently in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion ban­ning hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, while House Repub­li­cans this week in­tro­duced bills that would in­crease gov­ern­ment spend­ing to sup­port tech­no­log­i­cal fixes, such as car­bon cap­ture, and plant­ing trees, which ab­sorb car­bon diox­ide.

Asked if Repub­li­can lead­ers would con­sider putting a price on do­mes­tic car­bon emis­sions, the an­swer was a re­sound­ing no.

“[Car­bon pric­ing] doesn’t af­fect

the global use of car­bon and that’s where the fight has to be,” said Rep. David McKin­ley, R-W.Va. “In In­dia and China, they’re going to con­tinue to burn and use coal.”

That Repub­li­cans are talk­ing about cli­mate change so­lu­tions at all rep­re­sents a step for­ward, as the cli­mate skep­ti­cism that was preva­lent in the party only a few years ago has steadily fallen out of vogue.

McKin­ley re­cently cowrote an op-ed with Ore­gon Demo­crat Rep. Kurt Schrader propos­ing bipartisan leg­is­la­tion that would fund, “a decade of pub­lic and pri­vate in­vest­ments in clean en­ergy in­no­va­tion and in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, fol­lowed by new reg­u­la­tory stan­dards to en­sure en­vi­ron­men­tal and en­ergy goals are met.”

The hope among car­bon­tax pro­po­nents is that Repub­li­cans will even­tu­ally come around, sens­ing that re­search fund­ing alone isn’t going to cut green­house gases fast enough to avoid the worst con­se­quences of cli­mate change. In such a re­al­ity, a rev­enue-neu­tral car­bon tax — with money col­lected from the tax going back to Amer­i­cans in the form of a div­i­dend check — is be­lieved to be more palat­able to Repub­li­cans than a reg­u­la­tory crack­down on fos­sil fu­els.

To drum up sup­port for the pro­posal, the cli­mate council, whose mem­bers in­clude fig­ures such as for­mer Fed­eral Re­serve chair Janet Yellen and for­mer sec­re­tary of state James Baker, hosted a din­ner in Wash­ing­ton Tues­day night for Repub­li­can and Democrats from the Se­nate Cli­mate So­lu­tions Cau­cus. Cau­cus mem­bers in­clude Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., Sen. Mitt Rom­ney, R-Utah, and Sen. Michael Ben­net, D-Colo.

“Obviously it won’t pass (right now), but the point is to tee this up ahead of the 2020 elec­tion,” said Ted Hal­stead, chair­man of the cli­mate council. “We think even­tu­ally there will be a Repub­li­can jail break mo­ment on this.”

But to many in Wash­ing­ton, that is sim­ply wish­ful think­ing.

A num­ber of con­ser­va­tives de­cried Repub­li­cans at­tempt­ing to ad­dress cli­mate change at all. My­ron Ebell, Pres­i­dent Trump’s for­mer en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­viser, called the leg­is­la­tion a re­sponse to “years of re­ceiv­ing bad-faith po­lit­i­cal at­tacks from cli­mate alarmists.”

“The worry [among some con­ser­va­tives] is that if you start down the road of ad­dress­ing this is­sue, you can even­tu­ally end up in some hos­tile wa­ters,” said Stephen Brown, a Cal­i­for­nia-based en­ergy con­sul­tant. “The mer­its of a car­bon tax, while ap­par­ently ob­vi­ous to many econ­o­mists and aca­demics, have yet to reach an in­flec­tion point with Repub­li­cans who have to get re-elected for a liv­ing.”

But pres­sure from Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions is grow­ing, as ex­ec­u­tives are in­creas­ingly view­ing cli­mate change as a se­ri­ous threat to the global econ­omy.

Last month Larry Fink, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the New York in­vest­ment firm Black­Rock, wrote a let­ter to CEOs of the world’s largest com­pa­nies warn­ing that Black­Rock bank would be be­gin shift­ing its $7 tril­lion un­der man­age­ment away from in­vest­ments that “present a high sus­tain­abil­ity-re­lated risk.”

“You have to follow the money,” said Curt Mor­gan, CEO of Dal­las-based power com­pany Vis­tra En­ergy, a mem­ber of the cli­mate council. “Things are mov­ing at a rapid pace push­ing coun­tries on cli­mate change. There is going to be a con­tin­ued push, and both sides of the aisle have to lis­ten to that.”

Other en­ergy com­pa­nies that are mem­bers of the cli­mate council in­clude Cono­coPhillips, BP, Calpine, Royal Dutch Shell and To­tal.

Casey Christie / As­so­ci­ated Press

Some the United States’ largest cor­po­ra­tions, in­clud­ing Exxon Mobil, JP Mor­gan Chase and AT&T, are propos­ing a car­bon tax plan.

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