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Mark Reynolds is the executive director of the Citizens Climate Lobby. Theresa Hainer and Gerry Gross are co-chairs of the Bangor chapter of CCL.
In the home stretch of the 2020 campaign, presidential candidate Joe Biden leaned hard into the issue of climate change, giving a televised climate speech and running climate-focused ads in swing states. His campaign bet this issue, once considered politically risky, would now be a winner and his bet won.
With votes tallied, candidate Biden is now President-elect Biden. As is often the case, his party doesn’t have unified control across the whole federal government. President Biden will govern alongside a Democratic House, conservative Supreme Court, and Senate that could have a slim Republican or Democratic majority. That makes “working together” the order of the day.
Encouragingly, Biden understands people of any party can and do care about climate change. In a speech this fall, he said, “Hurricanes don’t swerve to avoid red states or blue states. Wildfires don’t skip towns that voted a certain way. The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. It’s not a partisan phenomenon, and our response should be the same.”
Some Republicans in the Senate express similar opinions. In October, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, participated in a climate policy webinar with her climate-hawk colleague, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island. She noted bipartisanship gives a policy longevity, saying, “Let’s work in a way that is going to get the support that you need from both Republicans and Democrats.”
Our leaders in Maine are signaling readiness to work on climate change, too. On Dec. 1, the Maine Climate Council rolled out their “Maine Won’t Wait! Four-Year Climate Action Plan.” Gov. Janet Mills brought together experts in science, technology, business, transportation, fisheries, agriculture, forest management, labor, government and civic organizations to formulate a plan to increase our state’s resiliency to survive climate change’s worst effects and transition equitably to a renewable energy future. Maine is doing its part, but climate solutions demand a national response.
These notable voices are responding to an incredible swell of public demand for climate action. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, found the number of Americans “alarmed” about climate change more than doubled in recent years, from 11 percent in 2015 to 26 percent in 2020. Currently 54 percent of Americans are either “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change. In Maine, 69 percent of our community believes global warming is happening.
This year fires burned more than 5 million acres across Western states, displacing thousands of people and record-breaking hurricanes battered the Southeast communities with storm upon storm with no time to recover from the previous one; it is starkly obvious that climate change is here and hurting Americans. We need to move quickly to address the root cause of these extreme events: excess greenhouse gas emissions.
An efficient, effective climate policy in Congress should include a carbon fee based on greenhouse gas emissions caused by all oil, gas and coal used in the United States. Putting that price on pollution will steer our country toward cleaner options, slashing harmful emissions across many areas of our economy at once. Revenues from this type of policy can be given to Americans on a regular basis — a “carbon cashback” if you will, putting money in people’s pockets while transitioning to a clean-energy economy.
Carbon fee legislation exists in Congress now, known as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act H.R. 763. It is supported by people and organizations across the political spectrum. In Maine, Rep. Chellie Pingree co-sponsors this bill along with endorsements from several municipalities including Bangor, Orono and Hampden. Our community is ready for Rep. Jared Golden and Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins to push forward making this legislation the law of the land. With the incoming president clearly committed to addressing climate change and millions of Americans eager for solutions, now is the time to act. Congress should seize the opportunity.