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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Congress, Lead on Climate

Bipartisan action required to save our environment, economy from devastation

The Columbian
Published: December 5, 2018, 6:03am

A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives marks a good starting point for much-needed discussion about climate change.

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act has been proposed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers — three Democrats and two Republicans. It is unlikely to receive much attention before the end of the year, but we hope it signals that the new Congress taking office in January will pay attention to the growing crisis caused by climate change.

An October report from the United Nations concluded that humans must act quickly to mitigate rising temperatures and avoid a global catastrophe. A November report from the federal government detailed the current and future impacts of climate change, concluding that the U.S. economy could lose $500 billion a year by the end of the century through crop damage, lost labor and weather damage.

Because of that dire outlook, The Columbian has editorially examined the issue of climate change and has recommended action by the Legislature. Today we look at the federal role in combating the crisis.

President Trump responded by saying that he does not believe the latest report, which is mandated by Congress and was compiled by 13 federal agencies and about 1,000 scientists. That highlights the need for Congress to demonstrate leadership that is lacking in the White House. “If we don’t act now, we are nearing a point of no return when it comes to the environment, when it comes to our health, and when it comes to our economy,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., the bill’s lead sponsor.

The proposal would charge $15 for each ton of carbon emitted by polluting industries, with the fee increasing $10 each year. After administrative costs, all revenue would be returned to taxpayers to offset price increases on energy and consumer goods. In an effort to draw Republican support, the bill would prohibit the federal government from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, unless the taxes are not effective in reducing carbon in the first 10 years.

A vast majority of climate scientists say that human activity and carbon emissions are exacerbating climate change and that reducing emissions are the best way to mitigate those changes.

Meanwhile, President Trump has continued to ignore scientific and anecdotal evidence. While wildfires and hurricanes have increased in severity, the administration has taken steps that will increase carbon emissions. Trump has rolled back Obama-era limits on emissions from automobiles; has overturned the Clean Power Plan; and has said the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

Critics of the Paris accord have argued that President Obama overstepped his authority in signing the deal without Senate approval. The U.S. cannot formally withdraw until Nov. 5, 2020 — two days after the next presidential election. Such sweeping guidelines should, indeed, require Senate approval, and lawmakers should take up the issue before 2020.

That further highlights the need for bipartisan leadership in dealing with climate change. Congress should fully consider the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act; it should quickly enact strict standards for auto emissions; and it should restore the United States’ commitment to the Paris accord. The recent federal report notes that “future impacts and risks from climate change are directly tied to decisions made in the present.”

We hope those decisions are made by clear-eyed leaders who look into the future rather than those prone to ignoring science.