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Jim Probst: Changing the conversation on climate

By By Jim Probst

I had the good fortune to be in the Senate visitor’s gallery on June 25 when Sen. Joe Manchin, in a colloquy with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, addressed the issue of climate change. It was the 72nd consecutive week that Sen. Whitehouse had spoken on the Senate floor about this issue. For his part, Sen. Manchin acknowledged the seriousness of climate change and recognized that humans are largely responsible for it.

I applaud Sen. Manchin for moving the conversation forward; instead of debating the existence of global warming, we are discussing solutions. My concern, though, is with his approach to solving the problem. Sen. Manchin said fossil fuels can continue to be a part of our energy mix for decades to come through the development of technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Unfortunately, CCS technology is still in development and by most opinions 10 to 20 years from being economically feasible. CCS requires anywhere from 10 to 40 percent more energy at the source of production to capture the carbon. There is also the issue of long-term sequestration or storage of the carbon dioxide (CO2), with the viability of storage sites and methods of transportation to these sites still to be answered.

In his remarks, Sen. Whitehouse endorsed the idea of a revenue-neutral fee and dividend on carbon emissions, which Sen. Manchin does not support. This legislation would impose a tax on carbon emissions, with the revenue collected rebated to households in the United States in equal shares. The intent is to have all methods of energy pay their fair share for the true cost of the pollution they emit. Adjusting this market price would allow for equitable competition in our energy sector. This requires no new government regulations, no involvement by the EPA, and no growth of government.

A recent study commissioned by Citizens Climate Lobby by the firm Regional Economic Models Inc. (REMI) finds that there would actually be an increase in employment with a steadily-increasing carbon tax — 2.1 million jobs created in the first 10 years and 2.8 million jobs after 20 years. The study also estimates 13,000 lives would be saved annually, with 227,000 American lives saved over 20 years due to reductions in air pollution. CO2 emissions would decline 33 percent over the first 10 years and by 52 percent over 20 years.

A study authored by Stanford professor Mark Jacobson and released earlier this year, finds that the U.S. could transform to 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2050. There are many good reasons to pursue this path rather than continuing to use fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have a limited life span, but we have the sun for as long as it continues to burn. Renewable sources also do not generate waste to dispose of or store safely. Development of renewable energies will create new jobs in industries that don’t foul our air and water.

If Sen. Manchin truly believes in the viability of clean coal technologies, why not support a tax on carbon emissions that refunds revenue to households? Such a tax would make CCS competitive in the marketplace, because the tax would be refunded for carbon verifiably captured and sequestered. In essence, Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s fee-and-dividend proposal provides a framework in which CCS can be profitable, securing a future for coal-generated electricity.

The marketplace, not government regulation, should determine which methods of energy production would best serve our country. By placing a clear and predictable price on carbon — one that refunds revenue to households — we can create jobs, grow our economy and save lives. We would also protect our children and grandchildren’s future. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Jim Probst is the leader of the Charleston chapter of

Citizens Climate Lobby.

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