Clean air relief act
CAN IT BE DONE?
Our proposal for the passage of a Clean Air Relief Act— involving a simple and hardly controversial decision to place a small but escalating fee on all corporate sources of pollution (inclusive of GHGs)—can be the foundation upon which nearly all of our most urgent crises can be addressed. As we see it, the externalization of pollution waste (the ruinous ecologic impacts, the cost of health impacts, the cost of cleaning up and removing that waste) is the original "sin" out of which a considerable amount of Industrial Age wealth has been created. Yet simultaneously, in ignoring and abiding the source from which all of the environmental, health, energy, economic disparity and even racial injustice originates, we have mutually benefitted. The deal has been, we allow unfair profiteering by the biggest polluters at the expense of the commons—and in return, we get cheaper stuff: cheaper energy, cheaper homes, cheaper goods, cheaper wars and better lives. America's vast expanse has made this seem like a good deal.
But we now know that this was wrong. Our globe and its wealth of resources is just not as infinite as it once seemed to us. This devil's bargain has come due, our scientists tell us, at the cost of compromising our future. More specifically, that of our children and grandchildren, on whose watch our eco-cide debts are being called. But, with the right leadership, we can acknowledge what we are doing, why it is hurting us, and insist on taking a better path, one that involves moral integrity and accepting some discipline on ourselves. We start by getting back to basics and putting price on all emissions—the toxic kind and the greenhouse gas kind—both of which are tremendously harmful. We can start small and ease our way gradually but we don't have forever. We need to quickly get to the point economically where these true costs are recognized and felt equitably. We need true costs to ripple through society and force us to make better choices. Without being forced to feel those costs, it is our nature to simply take cheap everything for granted and defer the obvious pain. Our inaction—our moral cowardice—simply forces our ecologic debts upon later generations, when, unfortunately, it will be far too late to address them. So for the sake of humanity, we literally have to man up now, whether we like it or not. So the question is, how can we choose to imposed this obvious financial pain on ourselves in a way that works politically, when the political reality is that cowardice and inaction are rewarded by these same profiteering polluters by longevity in office?
This is what we shall consider on this page. We shall pull on threads and evaluate if there are not problems that can be dealt with in a better way. Are the issues that are not being properly weighted or considered? Are these realistic policies? Is this something that Biden can help get passed in both houses of the Congress and put his pen to? That is what really matters here. We welcome your comments, questions and answers.
In the course of our outreach to our network to get help presenting this proposal to Biden, we began to receive both favorable and critical feedback from a range of experts, who have invariably more experience than we do. This is a reflection of the issues that have been raised which merit further discussion and deliberation. There is no particular order priority
APPROVE INTERIM SUPPORT NOW
Biden can urge Nancy Pelosi to accept McConnell's inadequate Covid stimulus proposal now, to speed $900 billion to Americans who need these funds to feed themselves and stay in their homes this winter. Instead of holding out for more money now, they should negotiate to have funds distributed along with a requirement that the recipient agree to the CDC's Covid protection guidelines, including mask wearing and social distancing. This requirement will go a long way in reducing the actual spread of the disease.
SET THE STAGE FOR A LONGER-TERM SOLUTION
By issuing insufficient support to Americans this winter, there will pent-up demand from the public for more stimulus payments, especially if there are massive numbers of evictions starting. Biden and his team should work to set the stage for a big, longer-term relief program, so that the public is reassured. By the time the inauguration arrives, people will be anxious to hear what Biden has in store to help them. Once they hear the plan, it will be wildly popular, because there is nothing for the public not to like about it. The optics will favor passage, as it will be industrial polluters protesting paying for their externalized toxic waste vs. voters being evicted. This will put more pressure on Republicans to support the legislation, and it will likely appeal to moderate Republicans who seek to see their constituents provided with more support. Biden can then come into office with sweeping changes to fifty year-old clean air legislation, that is actually quite moderate, fair and egalitarian, which will make it extremely hard for Republicans to refuse.
APPEAL TO BUSINESSES TO SUPPORT THIS SOLUTION
Businesses have become increasingly aware of their need to address climate change and Covid, and many have made commitments to address their emissions in the absence of clear governmental response. Now Biden can rally their support for a sensible, economy and environmental-saving piece of legislation. By appealing to business leaders to support this solution, Biden is giving all businesses a role in transforming the economy. By not demonizing the fossil fuel industry by itself, Biden will reduce opposition in part by being more egalitarian, reasonable and bringing a practical approach to addressing the damage done by the removal of environmental protections by the Trump presidency. Biden will announce that there will be an across-the-board implementation of a fee for all businesses with direct emissions from their activity or from their products. The fees will be levied on both toxic and GHG-types of emissions. While the assessed fees will be low on a per ton basis, they will be applied to all businesses with emission, so that all corporate emitters pay the fee on any and all pollutants that they emit, so they are directly motivated to invest in ways to reduce their own emissions.
EXPAND COVID RELIEF TO MORE AMERICANS
Trump's Covid relief went only to those earning $75,000 or less. We propose that this new stimulus dividend payment be distributed more broadly and go to those Americans earning less than $200,000 or those with less than $1 million in investible assets. This will be a substantially larger class of citizens (namely those deemed "non-sophisticated investors"). As a stimulus that reaches more broadly, this payment will put money into the hands of those who are most likely to spend it and boost economic activity. This ongoing stipend will actually gradually lessen the severity of income disparity, improve quality of life for those barely making ends meet, while helping most all businesses recover, because many more consumers will be able to purchase goods and services.
COMMENCE THE IMMEDIATE TRANSITION TO CLEANER FUELS AND PROCESSES
The pollution fee, though starting at a low level, will start to reduce toxic air pollution and the emissions that cause climate change. It will motivate emitters to switch to clean energy alternatives, plug leaks and fund better pollution scrubbers, filters as well as carbon capture technologies, knowing that the fees will increase rapidly over time. It will kick-start the growth of the CCUS sector—increasing commercial demand for capture technologies—and will enable clean energy technologies to finally compete on a level playing field with fossil fuels, which is key to eliminating emissions. Industrial factories including agricultural farms will be motivated to clean up their acts as well. Overall, this will help to vastly reduce the incidents of air-pollution-related diseases and lower healthcare costs over time.
AUTOMATION & TRANSPARENCY
The EPA will implement a fee schedule and simple electronic assessment and collection system. The EPA will do a basic assessment of the likely pollution fees owed by every company for all of its specific emissions. Then it will be the company's responsibility for confirming or contesting the amount through an emissions certification form, in which they self-report the amount of their emissions. Their claim and their form must be signed off on by an emissions assessor and all submissions will be public information. The EPA will train and register troops of new professional assessors who will be paid a reasonable fee based upon EPA fee schedule. This will create a lot of new jobs. Any company whose certification is later found to be inaccurate by a large amount, will be assessed a penalty fine. The collection of such penalties will fund the EPA's administrative costs. The public will also be able to review the reports and contest those that are not accurate based upon the public's use of monitoring sensors, which will spur EPA audits.
CREATE EDUCATION TRUSTS FOR MINORS
Qualifying Americans will include minor children. Minors will qualify for a full share of the distribution but their share (or a large percentage of their share) will be put into a trust account on their behalf, to be used either for their college education or healthcare costs. This provision will help Democrats fulfill their desire to make college education free, reduce healthcare costs for the nation's youth. To the extent that these children have grown up in the shadow of toxic emissions, their receipt of the stipend will go a long way to reverse environmental injustice.
ENSURE SUCCESS BY PUBLISHING SCHEDULE OF FEE INCREASES
The EPA will set out a schedule of pollution fees for approximately 200 harmful emissions that will start quite low but grow rapidly. The fee will quickly rise to the level of the actual cost of removing that substance from the environment it was released into but escalate beyond that level, which will be the equilibrium point at which it becomes less expensive for the polluter to prevent the pollution in the first place. Then, pollution emission levels will truly decline. This will ensure success in bringing emissions down as well as serve to reduce the risks of carbon pricing shocks to the markets. This approach and a schedule of fee hikes will allow the markets to work through the transition in an orderly way, allowing all investors to receive the fee escalation plan and to invest in our clean energy future accordingly.
BORDER FEES WILL BE COLLECTED
To prevent the importation of products at lower costs which have not had the fee charged, the EPA will apply a net fee at the border to any products imported into the U.S. (to achieve price parity) and will create international aid accounts that will fund aid to groups within those countries working to address and limit their emissions.