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Rebecca Ryan: Want EPA or free market to tackle carbon?

  • Published Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, at 12 a.m.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama challenged our nation to combat climate change “for the sake of our children and our future.” Lacking a “market-based solution” from Congress, the president intends to take action on his own, which likely will involve expansion of Environmental Protection Agency regulations on power plants.

Republican lawmakers who find that unsuitable should consider backing a revenue-neutral tax on carbon.

Climate scientists around the world are in wide agreement that human reliance on fossil-based fuels is at the root of ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. These rising CO2 levels play a significant role in heating up our world, which increases the frequency and severity of the extreme weather we have witnessed in recent years.

There is indeed a “new normal.” The ramifications for this include more events like the devastating drought currently gripping this part of the country, and more frequent and intense storms like the tornado that destroyed Joplin.

We have an opportunity to come together and craft a solution that not only addresses the threat of climate change but also provides much-needed economic stimulus. The right solution can set the stage for America to once again act in the capacity of a global leader while keeping the size of government small.

A steadily increasing, revenue-neutral fee levied on the CO2 content of coal, oil and gas could be just the solution we need. Such a fee would engage the power of our free-market economy to speed the transition to clean energy and reduce greenhouse emissions. Returning proceeds of the fee to American households would shield consumers from the economic impact of rising energy costs associated with the carbon fee.

Applying the fee in predictable increments would provide the necessary stability and price signal to motivate a shift in private investment to clean sources of energy. Entrepreneurs could exercise their ingenuity in developing new sources of energy. This in turn would result in new jobs.

The real beauty of such a carbon fee is that it would not grow the size of government by requiring new regulations. Instead, it would leverage the power of our free-market economy to effect the changes necessary to move us off carbon-based fuels in a gradual, predictable manner. It is more of a carrot and less of a stick.

If we couple such a revenue-neutral fee with tariffs at our borders, imposed on goods from nations lacking similar carbon-pricing schemes, we also would provide incentives for other nations to initiate policies to limit greenhouse emissions. This would go a long way toward solving a global problem, and cast America in the role of a true global leader.

If we act now, we can move ahead of China, Germany and other nations currently sitting atop the green economy. We want to lead here, not follow. It is time to demand that Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran take action on this issue.

New markets and new industries are waiting for us to develop. Let’s get busy, get educated and reach across the aisle to our fellow citizens who all want the best for this country.

Let’s put our heads together and engage the power of all that makes America great to solve this daunting problem.

Rebecca Ryan of Lawrence is a volunteer with the Kansas chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.

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