Everything has a price.

Climate change lobbyists may argue that point, at least when it comes to CO2, which contributes to global warming. That, they say, is free for anyone to produce.

But a national group of citizen lobbyists with seven chapters in Indiana is working to change that.

The Citizens' Climate Lobby is advocating for a fee to be charged against carbon at the point it enters the U.S. economy. The group's single mission is to lobby all 535 members of Congress each year for a carbon fee.

In effect, a fee would be a disincentive mining and down-the-line production of fossil fuel-burning power or products while tapping the free market to urge distribution of products using environmentally friendly processes and renewable energy.

The fee, would compound year-over-year, beginning at $15 per ton of CO2 and rising by $10 every year, to further push industry away from fossil fuels.

The fee would then be redistributed to American families monthly to offset the increase in price for products.

"A fee on carbon is the most efficient way to drive down the use of carbon-generating projects," said Ted Wolner, a Ball State professor who leads the East-Central Indiana chapter of CCL.

The monthly dividend would serve a dual purpose, said John Vann, Ball State University professor and member of the ECICCL.

Not only would it help to offset the increase in consumer-good costs, with 2 in 3 American families coming out ahead after the fee and poor and middle class Americans guaranteed to break even, it would also remind consumers to focus on renewable energy and green-sourced products.

In the first year of a carbon fee, according to the CCL, the dividend would be about $360 per household.

Creating a new economy

The group argues that such a fee would not only reduce the amount of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, but would also foster a new manufacturing economy focused on the production of technologies such as solar panels and wind turbines.

A study of the plan conducted by Regional Economic Modeling Inc., a nonpartisan research firm, projected the creation of 2.8 million new jobs by 2035 and $1.4 trillion added to the nation's GDP.

In the East-North-Central region, which included Indiana, the study projected a net gain of $19 billion to the regional economy and a net increase in jobs and wages.

The biggest reason for the increase in jobs, the study notes, is a steady rise in monthly dividends that would boost consumer spending and, therefore, service-industry profits.

"While many of these jobs are entry-level," the study notes, "they beat unemployment, and indeed the poorest 20 percent of Americans [would] see the largest boost in employment."

Cap-and-trade alternative

The proposed fee is far different than current carbon-lowering initiatives such as cap-and-trade, Wolner said.

First, cap-and-trade relies on a massive governmental regulatory body to police every business that creates carbon, as well as creating an exchange market.

Instead, the carbon fee proposed by the CCL would require a comparatively small group of regulators, because only businesses at the point of carbon generation would need oversight. The disbursement could be handled through a small group at the IRS, using the same mechanism as tax payments.

Facing opposition

Vann and Wolner would be the first to acknowledge that the CCL faces an uphill battle in persuading government officials to create a fee and dividend model, particularly as President Donald J. Trump works to dismantle Obama-era climate protection programs.

However, Vann said, cracks are forming in the wall of mostly Republican legislators who don't see human-caused climate change as a threat or reality.

He points to formal endorsements by 24 municipal governments, 39 editorial boards and the California State Legislature as a starting point. CCL also lobbied to convince 17 House Republicans to sign the Gibson Resolution stating that human-caused climate change requires Congress to act, and to persuade 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans to form the House Climate Solutions Caucus, which is looking at legislative options.

Members of the CCL also sent more than 40,000 letters to government representatives and hosted more than 1,350 lobby meetings in 2016.

More broadly, climate scientists and 30 major corporations agree a price on carbon generation is the best first step in really addressing climate change, Wolner said.

Recent studies also show 68 percent of Americans, including half of Republicans, favor carbon fees, according to a poll by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. The poll was conducted with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Though political change might seem to some like a distant priority, Vann advocates for urgency.

"Climate change affects everyone. It affects the commons, the sea, air, land," he said. "And we only have so long to act."

Recommended for you