In the Iowa City Press-Citizen today:
Carrie La Seur (President and Founder of Plains Justice) explains how we can stimulate the economy, protect consumers against higher energy costs, and protect future generations against climate change -- all at the same time.
Real solutions: A climate bill that works for everyone
Carrie La Seur • Guest Opinion • February 18, 2009
Sadly, Iowa's electric and natural gas utilities are stuck in the past, echoing the same do-nothing message that has been holding up needed action on climate policy for decades. The real message is: "Don't make me take any action! I demand business as usual!" That's the same thinking that has caused so much trouble with Wall Street and Detroit.
Iowans can't afford to go down that same path with our utility companies.
Unfortunately, the utilities talk about the "true cost" of climate legislation without acknowledging the true cost of doing nothing, which has been our state policy until now, even as Iowa's greenhouse gas emissions increase every year. This is a betrayal of our grandkids and their grandkids, who will have to suffer the consequences of what we don't do today. It's also completely unnecessary. Contrary to what the utility companies tell the public, we can stimulate the economy, protect consumers against higher energy costs, and protect future generations against climate change -- all at the same time.
Under a proposal called "cap and cash back," polluting industries pay for their pollution, and all the revenues are returned directly to citizens.
Yes, it's vitally important to get the finances right. Under any form of carbon protection law that works at all as intended, energy prices will rise, but the law also can shield consumers, so industrial polluters pay. A cap and cash back policy means that the higher the price of carbon gets, the bigger the energy rebate that will flow to each household to cover that higher energy bill. People who cut their consumption through efficiency measures will benefit even more.
Creating early incentives for efficiency and conservation, and protecting ratepayers with an energy rebate, buys us time to install the technological and system solutions that we already know work and are just waiting to be implemented. One example is a "smart grid" that manages our energy consumption better.
We must guard, however, against the false solutions that those who want to hold back progress will suggest. Climate "offset" projects like tree planting have been rejected by scientists and policy analysts alike as nearly impossible to verify. Offsets are commonly compared to indulgences sold by the medieval Catholic Church as a way for wealthy sinners to buy their way out of trouble. No credible climate policy includes offsets.
Another false solution is unlimited emissions once carbon prices reach a certain point. That policy would leave future generations unprotected from climate change by virtually guaranteeing no real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, the "economic safety valve" of a cap and cash back policy is built in from the start: the energy cash back payments protect families, while polluters must find ways to lower emissions, period.
Utilities have spent a lot of time and money fighting any action on climate that would ensure a good life for future generations while claiming they're just protecting consumers. Cap and cash back is a policy that protects the future and pays rebates today.
It's time for those who are stuck in the past to stop their stalling and get on board.