Local climate advocates push for national carbon tax

The Iowa City chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby is working nationally and locally on climate change solutions.

Caleb McCullough, News Reporter

Following the announcement in October that Canada will begin taxing carbon in 2019 and a failed attempt to pass a similar measure in Washington, local climate activists are pushing to create such a tax on carbon in the United States.

Iowa City Climate Advocates is the local chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, an organization that focuses specifically on introducing a revenue-neutral carbon tax in the United States, said Eric Johnson, the co-leader of the local group.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby advocates for a tax on carbon-based fuels such as gasoline and diesel, Johnson said. The revenue collected from the fees would be distributed back to Americans, keeping government spending the same.

The goal of the measure is to keep carbon emissions down and encourage more sustainable energy, Johnson said. Additionally, it allows clean energy sources to compete with the fossil-fuel industry.

“It just accurately prices the carbon pollution that is currently just being emitted for free,” he said.

The local Climate Advocates had its November meeting on Nov. 10, when they participated in the national Citizens’ Climate Lobby meeting via video conference.

At the meeting, Anthony Leiserowitz, a senior research scientist at Yale’s Program for Climate Change Communication, presented a lecture about public perception of climate change.

Leiserowitz said 71 percent of registered voters support a tax on carbon, including 56 percent of Republicans. Johnson said he finds this bipartisan support to be a necessary part of what Citizens’ Climate Lobby does.

“We have to listen first, and you have to meet people where they’re at,” he said.

The organization has also reached out to UI students, attending Republican and Libertarian organization meetings on campus in an attempt to raise bipartisan support for the carbon tax.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby also helped create the Climate Solutions Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, a bipartisan group that works toward climate solutions, Johnson said.

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While it is part of a national organization, IC Climate Advocates also advocates locally, Johnson said. The members work with local business and community leaders to raise awareness and seek endorsements for the organization.

The Iowa City City Council has publicly endorsed a carbon fee, Johnson said. Additionally, a member of Iowa City Climate Advocates worked with the city to develop the Climate Action Plan earlier this year.

While the organization focuses primarily on the national level, Climate Advocates co-leader Peter Ronlick said the members try to meet with state lawmakers to encourage legislation in Iowa, as well.

“If the federal government isn’t going to act, then our choice is to do it at the state level, at the county level, at the city level,” he said.

Ronlick said Iowa also has unique issues that may need to get worked out at a state level, as farmers use carbon-intensive practices and may not see the benefits that others would from a carbon fee.

More than 600 representatives from Citizens’ Climate Lobby, including one member of Climate Advocates, will head to Washington on Tuesday to speak with members of Congress about a carbon tax, Johnson said.

Opponents of the tax argue that it could negatively affect low-income residents, but Ronlick said there isn’t any evidence of that.

“The evidence says, and economists on the right and the left all agree with this, that most people will be helped by this,” he said.