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Brett Cease: Investing in clean energy

During last month’s campaigning there was almost no mention of climate change and the security, economic and environmental implications that come with our warming planet. With the election over, it’s time to start discussing solutions.

This past year saw record wildfires, floods and a historic two-thirds of our counties experiencing crop-killing drought. “Frankenstorm” Sandy slammed the East Coast and inflicted an estimated $50 billion in damage.

It is true that climate change cannot be blamed for any one particular weather event. However, the super-charged effects of a warming planet seen in our warmer oceans and more moisture being trapped in our atmosphere are sending a clear message: our future weather patterns look increasingly chaotic if we don’t ease off on burning things that are heating up our atmosphere.

Our local chapter of the non-partisan, nonprofit group Citizens Climate Lobby has been advocating for a consumer-friendly, revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend approach in our government for the past several years. We believe it is possible to transition our country from the coal, gas and oil that is warming our world without producing economic hardship for Americans.

By placing a steadily rising fee on carbon-based fuels and returning the revenue directly to American households in the form of payroll reductions, we can shield the public from the rising costs of energy while sending a signal to the marketplace that motivates the private sector to invest in clean energy.

A balanced tariff on fossil fuel imports from nations that do not place a similar price on carbon would protect American businesses from unfair competition. In turn, this would provide the additional incentive for other major-emitting nations to adopt similar carbon fees and scale back on their own output.

And the timing is right. According to a study done by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, a considerable majority of Americans – more than 3 out of 4 – agree that “the president and Congress should make global warming a priority.”

The study also found that contrary to conventional wisdom, support for a consumer-friendly carbon fee is surprisingly high. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they would vote for a candidate who supports a revenue-neutral tax swap (fossil fuels for income taxes), with 51 percent of Republicans saying they would.

In addition, the leading conservative tax mind, Grover Norquist, chief of Americans for Tax Reform, has acknowledged the possibility of structuring such a revenue-neutral fee and dividend system so that there isn’t a tax increase (thus remaining true to the Republican pledge).

As our nation seeks to resolve the troubling fiscal cliff, Republicans and Democrats must come together. The carbon fee and dividend system provides such an answer. This proposal is paired with a cut in income tax – something that Republicans have long sought – and equally offers a chance to enact a policy that Democrats have long advocated for – a speedy, market-friendly transition to further clean energy development.

Will you support a consumer-friendly carbon fee and dividend system that gives revenue back to American households?

Brett Cease of Bemidji is a member of the Citizens Climate Lobby.