Over the summer, three bills aimed at curbing carbon dioxide emissions through taxation were introduced in Congress. With impeachment looming and an already polarized legislature, it’s unlikely that any will become law any time soon.

However, knowing what the bills propose is important for understanding where legislators stand on the relationship between climate and capitalism — one of the thorniest problems in politics today. 

Here’s a rundown of each of the bills and what would happen if they passed:

Climate Action Rebate Act

Introduced by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), this bill would impose a tax of $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide with the goal of reducing emissions 55 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

The tax would steadily increase by $15 per year but increase to $30 per year if yearly emission goals were not met. It’s intended to target refineries and other companies that utilize fossil fuels, not consumers putting gas in their cars or heating their homes. 

“Climate change poses an existential threat to our economy, our environment, and our national security,” Coons said in a press release announcing the bill. “To address this threat, we need an innovative strategy that can reduce emissions and generate economic growth, not hinder it.”

Revenue generated from the tax would be redistributed in the form of a monthly stipend to households with incomes below $150,000 and re-invested into research and development around renewable energy and building climate-resilient infrastructure.

Stemming Warming and Augmenting Pay Act (SWAP Act)

This bill, introduced by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), would place a $30 tax on every metric ton of carbon dioxide with the goal of reducing carbon emissions 42 percent by 2030. 

Unlike the Climate Action Rebate Act, the majority of revenue collected from the tax would be used to reduce payroll taxes, for an overall tax decrease of about 1%. An additional 10% of the tax fees would be used to supplement Social Security, while 20% would be used for climate-related research and development.

Like Coons, Rooney said corporations — not individual Americans — should pay the price for contributing to climate change. 

“Those industries that choose to pollute our environment should bear the burden of cleaning it up,” Rooney said in a statement. “Putting a price on carbon will level the economic playing field in the energy sector, unlock market-driven innovation, and lead to the deployment of low, zero, and negative carbon technologies. It will help create millions of new jobs and slash U.S. carbon emissions dramatically, making it a powerful tool for curbing climate pollution.”

As a Republican, Rooney is largely out of step with his party’s position on climate change. As he strags further from the party’s base, he recently announced that he would join a growing number of Republicans not seeking re-election next year.

The Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2019 (RWCC Act)

Lipinski and Rooney teamed up again for this bill, but this time Lipinski took the lead. The RWCC Act would impose a tax of $40 per metric ton of carbon dioxide starting in 2020, with a 2.5% tax increase every year that the U.S. does not meet emission reduction targets. 

Like the SWAP Act, revenue generated from the RWCC Act would primarily go to offset the payroll tax for workers. The bill also calls for directing funds to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program. These programs assist low-income families with making their homes more energy efficient and preparing for severe weather.

Lipinski introduced the first piece of carbon tax legislation in Congress in 2009 and vowed to keep climate change on the legislative agenda. 

“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face, and a large portion of that comes from combustion of fossil fuels,” Lipinski said in a statement. “This bill incentivizes the adoption of cleaner renewable technologies, and will break our addiction to fossil fuels that are so damaging to our environment. This bill will also be a boon to taxpayers and has the advantage of providing predictable pricing to businesses over time to encourage deployment of clean energy technologies, stimulate innovation, and mitigate global climate change.”


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