Climate Change Activists Say Carbon Reduction Goals Have Conservative Market Solutions

Apr 3, 2017

President Trump making remarks about a new executive order he signed promoting energy independence at Environmental Protection Agency headquarters March 28.
Credit Jonathan Gallegos / White House

Taking a stand inside Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, President Donald Trump on March 28th signed an executive order releasing the coal, oil and natural gas industries from pollution mitigation and thresholds set forth by the previous administration.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters, including industry executives and coal miners, Trump said his Energy Independence Executive Order fulfills a campaign promise for a "new energy revolution."

"Today, I'm taking bold action to follow through on that promise. My administration is putting an end to the war on coal.  We're going to have clean coal, really clean coal.  With today’s executive action, I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations. … And we're going to have safety, we're going to have clean water, we're going to have clear air."

 Trump's executive order also seeks to end the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that allows each state to devise ways to gradually reduce industrial fossil fuel emissions.  As states began to deploy the plan however,  a coalition of industry leaders and states' attorneys general, including Arkansas, sued to block implementation. The case remains in federal court. Trump’s executive order also calls for lifting a moratorium on federal coal leasing and elimination of any social calculations or taxes attributed to carbon pollution. Trump never did explain what he meant by "really clean coal," nor how his administration plans to reduce industrial carbon pollution, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and linked to global warming.  

Chris McNamara, state coordinator of Arkansas Citizens' Climate Lobby.
Credit Chris McNamara

But Chris McNamara, Arkansas coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby, a decentralized grassroots organization with 50 state chapters, says there is a conservative-friendly market-based solution to easing fossil fuel carbon emissions in the U.S.

"The way I like to explain it is you have to pay for your trash to be taken out. We want companies and industries to pay for putting carbon emissions into the atmosphere."

For example, a coal-fired electrical generating station will have to pay a carbon pollution fee, while stations outfitted with expensive carbon capture devices would not.  Citizens' Climate Lobby says carbon pollution reduction fees ought to be doled out to American pocketbooks as household dividends.

"So what carbon fee and dividend, or carbon pricing policy is, is we put a price on CO2 emissions. We assess the value of carbon dioxide emissions per ton and then once we have a price let the market adjust how each individual business is going to adapt to this new cost that they have to internalize in their business models."

Arkansas households could theoretically receive cold cash for carbon fee penalties paid out by carbon polluting industries in the state.
Credit Jacqueline Froelich / Arkansas Public Media

A group of eight conservative U.S. statesmen and business leaders who comprise the Climate Leadership Council is making a case for carbon fee and dividend, "including Rob Walton, former chairman of the board of Walmart, who was part of a delegation which went to the White House in February to propose a carbon based solution, very similar to Citizens' Climate Lobby's market-based solution.

"So its a huge deal. We also had 17 Republicans come out with a resolution this last month saying with climate change being an issue, we need to address it. So we are seeing bipartisan activity on climate change despite a lack of leadership at the highest level in the the White House."

 The U.S. Climate Leadership Council is calling for an American carbon tax, estimated at first to cost $40 a ton. Climate Leadership Council member, George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, also serves on the advisory board of Citizens' Climate Lobby. Chris McNamara says a handful of states are legislating carbon pricing policies, something Arkansas Citizens Climate Lobby aims to do during the 2019 Arkansas legislative session.  

A coal train passing by the White Bluff power plant near Redfield, Arkansas.
Credit Danny Johnston / Associated Press

According to a study for Arkansas Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Fayetteville, conducted by the Regional Economic Models, Inc. in Washington, a carbon fee and dividend policy implemented in Arkansas could result in a reduction of 30 million metric tons of carbon per year and monthly rebates of more than $200 per month per Arkansas household. 

Chris McNamara says a handful of states are already legislating carbon pricing policies, something Arkansas Citizens Climate Lobby plans to work towards during the 2019 legislative session. He says Arkansas’s coal-fired energy complex produces some of the cheapest energy in the nation but is ranked as the dirtiest.

For now, he says, Arkansas Citizen Climate Lobby, with organizers in Fayetteville, Little Rock and Hot Springs, is collaborating with the Arkansas business community.

"To bring them to the table with our members of Congress and have the talk about the efforts they are making towards sustainability and why this is important to their bottom line, their culture and lasting power of their business."

But this June, just as summer heats up, a thousand Citizen Climate Lobby members, including several from Arkansas, plan to descend on Washington to lobby members of Congress about the merits of carbon fee and dividend incentives.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

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