Last week, negotiations to cut President Joe Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion Build Back Better economic stimulus package were thrown back into another spin with Manchin indicating his opposition to the framework’s climate keystone – the Clean Energy Performance Plan (CEPP), which would pay utilities to change clean electricity and impose fines on those who don’t. Loss-making hawks like Manchin and his fellow moderate Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, however, would be foolish to cut back ambitious climate investments in the name of fiscal responsibility, as these provisions are necessary to prevent the future fiscal calamity they seek to avoid.
As anyone with a leaky roof will tell you, making enough investments up front is essential to avoid catastrophic costs down the line. Looking at the dollars and cents, it’s clear that our failure to push forward strategies to eliminate global warming carbon emissions – whether it’s with carrots like tax incentives for clean energy, sticks like carbon pollution standards or market-based solutions like a carbon levy – not It’s not just a future problem, but a problem that is already costing us billions of dollars.
Since 1980, the United States has been hit by 308 weather and climate disasters that have caused more than $ 1 billion in damage each, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). In total, these disasters cost the US economy more than $ 2 trillion.
Manchin’s West Virginia was not spared. The Highlands State faces one of the ten largest increases in heatwave days nationwide, putting more than 60,000 vulnerable West Virginia residents at risk of heat-related illness or death, and has the highest percentage of homes, businesses and critical infrastructure, such as power plants, roads, police stations and fire stations, at high risk of being rendered unusable by flooding.
With each passing decade, the number of disasters in the United States crossing the billion dollar mark has skyrocketed while the total annual cost has increased exponentially. Nationwide costs have grown from an average national price of $ 18 billion per year in the 1980s to more than $ 86 billion per year over the past decade, according to National Environmental Information Centers. from NOAA. Extreme weather conditions supercharged by climate change – and made worse by increased economic development, right in the sights of hurricanes, wildfires and floods – are squarely to blame for these trends.
If we fail to make ambitious investments now to shift to a clean, low-carbon economy and make our communities resilient to climate change, the damage from climate disasters is expected to skyrocket into the hundreds of billions. dollars per year. Indeed, we are already knocking on this door. The just updated NOAA report says that in the first nine months of 2021 alone, we have already recorded nearly $ 105 billion in property and infrastructure damage and more than 500 lives lost to cause of 18 disasters, underlining the urgency to act without delay.
Investing in clean energy and transportation also promises huge savings not only by preventing catastrophic property damage, but by protecting the health of American families and our children. Toxic air pollution like soot, mercury, and carcinogenic benzene – emitted by the same fossil fuel sources that are fueling climate change – currently costs the U.S. economy an estimated $ 800 billion a year in time off work, home stays. hospital, years of life lost and premature deaths.
Accelerating the deployment of clean cars and clean energy not only saves on avoided costs, but also generates a powerful return on investment, so spending on carbon reduction and climate resilience are now a hell of a deal.
For every dollar spent to prevent climate change, about $ 4 to $ 7 is saved in extreme weather damage, according to a study by the National Institute of Building Sciences. In addition, every dollar invested in climate action could save $ 30 in avoided health costs from air pollution, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency.
While some may be tempted to point the finger at the two-party $ 1 trillion infrastructure plan passed by the Senate with its many investments in climate and pollution – from plugging abandoned oil and gas wells to the swapping diesel school buses for zero-emission electric buses and building a nationwide system of electric vehicle charging stations – like a job well done, the infrastructure bill only gets the ball rolling.
To truly ensure a strong economic future, a healthier environment and a safer climate our children deserve, we cannot afford to reduce or mitigate the critical climate and pollution provisions proposed as part of the reconciliation framework. budgetary.
This includes tax incentives for clean electricity, zero and low emission vehicles, and energy efficient homes and buildings; funding for utilities and the electricity sector to accelerate the shift to clean electricity to power clean cars, buildings and manufacturing; hold the oil and gas industry accountable for fixing methane leaks in gas infrastructure and stopping wasteful practices such as ventilation and flaring that not only spit out heat-trapping gases but also air pollution toxic; help US farmers and foresters adopt “climate smart” practices to store more carbon in soils and forests; and the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps to improve natural climate resilience.
Aggressively acting on the climate is not only fiscally responsible at the macroeconomic level but also at the domestic economic level. The climate investments proposed in the reconciliation plan will create millions of new family-sustaining jobs across the urban and rural spectrum, while lowering household energy bills through increased energy efficiency of homes and accelerated access to large-scale wind and solar power, which have overtaken conventional fossil fuels as the cheapest source of electricity when judged on an equal footing without subsidies.
However, with the national debt at its highest level since the end of World War II, making such investments once in a generation can understandably make deficit hawks reflect. That’s why a carbon-linked revenue stream, such as a carbon levy currently being discussed in Congress, is a smart addition to the reconciliation plan.
Functioning as a user charge for carbon polluters to pollute, a carbon charge is expected to bring in up to $ 2 trillion over 10 years according to the Tax Foundation, effectively covering more than half – if not all – of the price of fuel. reconciliation plan. . Indeed, a National Academies of Sciences report published this year named an economy-wide carbon price, such as a carbon royalty, the most cost-effective and essential strategy for achieving a rapid, fair and equitable transition to a net zero carbon economy. which simultaneously unleashes innovation in all areas of the energy economy.
The definition of “tax insanity” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. To let billion dollar disasters befall our shores, burn our forests and family homes, and flood our farms and communities at an ever increasing rate, but continuing to do nothing about it is indeed foolish.
Historic climate spending is not only financially responsible, but necessary to deliver a strong and secure economic future to our children and ensure that they are not burdened by billions of unnecessary and destabilizing future spending.
To avoid the stark fiscal reality engendered by runaway carbon emissions and global warming, deficit hawks should encourage ambitious climate action and ensure that the level of climate investment under the current framework survives the chopping block intact. law of reconciliation.