ECN Editorial: A Response to EPPN’s Climate-Change Action Alert

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A vintage Episcopal Public Policy Network magnet. We may not love the same climate legislation as EPPN, but we do love EPPN itself!

The church’s official Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) issued a climate-change action alert today, called “Urge Congress to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” The alert asks Episcopalians to support a new carbon-tax proposal from two Republican lawmakers.

 

EPPN said in an email to its list, “In late July, Republican Congressmen Carlos Curbelo (FL) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) …introduced the MARKET CHOICE Act (H.R. 6463). We ask you to write your representative today and encourage them to co-sponsor this legislation aimed at minimizing human-caused impact on the environment!”

The choice of whether or not to support H.R. 6463 is a complicated one. As an independent faith-based website, Episcopal Climate News does not endorse the MARKET CHOICE Act, but does laud the EPPN alert as a heartening example of the church using a strong moral voice to speak out on climate change.

On the one hand, Rep. Curbelo has made a laudable attempt at crafting compromise legislation that would indeed cut U.S. carbon emissions. On the other hand, many climate advocates reject the measure because it would place severe limits on further climate action, including major restrictions on EPA authority, despite not solving the climate policy problem on its own.

Here is a summary of the legislation from Inside Climate News (ICN):

“Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s bill would set a tax on carbon emissions starting at $24 per ton in 2020. The tax would rise 2 percent a year above inflation until 2030. It would go up an additional $2 a ton in any year when emissions failed to fall. As carbon prices go, this is pretty low… [A competing Republican proposal] said that a ‘sensible’ starting point would be $40 a ton.”

As EPPN notes, researchers at Columbia University found that the MARKET CHOICE Act could cut U.S. carbon emissions by 30-40%. However, this is only marginally more than the projected 32% reduction that would have been made under the EPA’s Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which H.R. 6463 would repeal and replace. (To be clear, the Trump administration is also working to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which has yet to take effect, and replace it with much weaker regulations. H.R. 6463 would block both the Obama and Trump plans.)

In fact, the MARKET CHOICE Act could actually weaken our long-term ability to further reduce deadly carbon emissions. In addition to instituting a new carbon tax, the bill would also repeal the current gas tax and prohibit the EPA from passing further carbon regulation. This means that while this legislation would meet the U.S.’s limited goals under the Paris Agreement, it could stymie federal efforts to cut emissions any further. Experts agree that in order to have any chance at stopping runaway climate change, such additional steps beyond the Paris Agreement will be necessary.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

“While we’re heartened by Curbelo’s recognition that we need decisive action to slow, stop and reverse climate change, NRDC cannot support his bill. It won’t cut heat-trapping pollution fast enough to meet science-based climate protection goals. It should invest far more in emission-reducing energy efficiency, renewable power, and electric vehicles, rather than devoting most revenues to highways. And it would preempt using the Clean Air Act to cut our carbon footprint. We must deploy all available tools, not limit them as this bill does, to head off the worst damages from climate change… The bottom line is that the Curbelo bill is a good conversation-starter.”

Another organization that has withheld its support for the MARKET CHOICE Act is the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). This is notable because the original draft of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention resolution “2018-C020: Carbon Tax”, which serves as the basis of EPPN’s support for the Curbelo bill, actually pointed to CCL’s own fee-and-dividend proposal as the type of carbon tax the church should support. While the amended resolution that ultimately passed is much more open to different types of legislation, language citing CCL still exists in the church resolution’s “explanation” section.

Why does EPPN support the MARKET CHOICE Act? According to their action alert,

“In a time that is so incredibly divided and defined by so many forces working to punish bipartisanship, one of the most important things we can do as advocates, Christians, and citizens is reward those who reach across the aisle and are willing to break party orthodoxy to do what is right for all people.

“Speaking out today is ever more critical as the Trump Administration announced its intention to ignore science, economics, and public health research and roll back rules that would have cut carbon emissions from power plants… Therefore, we ask you to write to your representative in Congress and urge them to support H.R. 6463! No bill is perfect, but this one would make a major impact and comes at a time that the public must take a strong stance to support those willing to speak out on climate issues.”

Another organization that has offered praise for Rep. Curbelo’s MARKET CHOICE Act is the Nature Conservancy.

It could also be argued that, while the MARKET CHOICE Act is not perfect, it does offer the best opportunity for any climate legislation whatsoever to pass in the present political environment. Yet even that opportunity is small. Since introducing the bill a month ago. Rep. Curbelo has recruited only two co-sponsors, and there is no companion Senate legislation. Moreover, less than two weeks before Rep. Curbelo introduced his bill, the House voted 229-180 on largely party lines to condemn the idea of any carbon tax at all.

As an independent project, Episcopal Climate News does not offer its own endorsement of H.R. 6463. As the ECN editor, a graduate student in environmental studies, and a former EPPN intern myself, I agree with EPPN that it is important to reach across the aisle, but I do not believe that rewarding bipartisanship around weak climate solutions is more important than favoring strong climate solutions of any political origin. A bill that blocks further federal climate action while not offering particularly strong new action of its own is likely to prove counterproductive for God’s earth and its people, and is not worth supporting in its current form.

ECN does, however, laud the EPPN alert as an important and heartening example of climate action from the church. The MARKET CHOICE Act is, as NRDC says, a helpful conversation starter, and ECN thanks EPPN for keeping this vital moral issue in front of Episcopalians. Sign their petition if you feel called to do so!

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