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Commentary: Carbon pricing a powerful tool to lower emissions

Northwestern Energy’s plan to build a 175 MW natural gas power plant in Laurel was probably not welcome news to sustainability managers in Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula. Tasked by their communities to meet the goal of 100% net clean electricity by 2030, they are negotiating with NWE for a green tariff, meaning customers will be allowed to buy green energy, hopefully made in Montana.

But models show that increasing renewable energy alone doesn’t lower emissions. Only burning less fossil fuels (or sequestering their emissions) actually lowers emissions. Building expensive fossil fuel infrastructure without Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) moves us away from our goal, and a livable planet.

Over 3,500 U.S. economists agree that the fastest way to decrease U.S. emissions is to give utilities, industry, government, and consumers a reason to innovate — by putting a fee on carbon pollution. NorthWestern would have to factor this steadily rising cost into their balance sheet for all their fossil fuel sources.

When decision-making is based on a market that accounts for the true costs of carbon pollution, affordable, clean alternatives win out across the board.

Carbon pricing has gained traction on both sides of the aisle because it’s simply a great solution. It’s predictable for business, it’s not regulation, it lowers air pollution and saves lives, and it can rapidly lower greenhouse gas emissions to meet our targets locally and nationally, all while supporting the economy and creating jobs.

Plus, when the revenue is returned as a carbon cashback ‘dividend’ to households, it automatically helps those on low incomes during the energy transition.

Scores of businesses and industry representatives, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the elite CEO’s of the Business Roundtable, and the American Petroleum Institute, all prefer this predictable approach to what the Chamber calls “the cost of inaction.”

Recently, 52 Republicans in the U.S. House formed the Conservative Climate Caucus, where its leader Rep. Curtis of Utah referred to carbon pricing saying “I think everything should be on the table.” Also in Utah, 25 current and former state legislators signed an op-ed calling for a carbon tax and cashback to households policy.

The international community may provide other reasons for the U.S. to move toward pricing carbon.

The U.S. is one of two out of 31 developed economies in the world that doesn’t have a price on carbon. If the U.S. institutes a carbon fee, we can help set the going rate internationally and be a global leader, innovating (and selling our innovations) for a global problem.

Another factor to consider is that some of our major trading partners who have carbon prices are planning to impose a fee on imported carbon intensive products from countries that don’t have equivalent carbon pricing, so that their manufacturers are not at a disadvantage. That’s called a Border Carbon Adjustment. Without a U.S. carbon fee, U.S. exporters would end up paying this additional cost to the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom as early as Jan. 1, 2023.

Additionally, just the announcement of this Border Carbon Adjustment has caused Russia to consider its own emissions trading system, and has China looking to increase its domestic carbon market.

For all these reasons and more, there are several carbon pricing bills gaining steam in Congress now, including the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (HR 2307) with 72 co-sponsors, America’s Clean Future Fund Act (S. 685), Save Our Future Act (S. 2085), and the Market Choice Act (HR 3039), introduced by Republican Brian Fitzpatrick.

With record-breaking heat across our beautiful state, grasshoppers devouring crops, brown trout populations dwindling, and wildfire seasons intensifying, climate change is something we ignore at our economic and personal peril.

Need to learn more about climate science or carbon pricing before getting on board? Visit CitizensClimateMT.org.

Even as Exxon publicly supports a carbon fee, its lobbyists said Congress would never pass one.

With so much at stake, and a powerful, practical solution within our grasp, let’s be citizen lobbyists! Ask our elected officials to show bold leadership, like the city of Whitefish, which voted unanimously to endorse the Energy Innovation Act! Call Rep. Rosendale, Sens. Tester and Daines today — ask them to co-sponsor these carbon pricing bills at CCLUSA.org/call.