United We Stand, Katie Wheeler, CC BY-SA 2.0


Editor’s note: The Sierra Nevada Ally is inviting local writers to pen approved opinion columns for the publication. We invited the Citizens’ Climate Lobby to write columns on climate change issues. 

2020 will go down in the books as a hot mess. The mess speaks for itself, but just how hot was it? The first 9 months of the year have been warmer than comparable periods in prior years and the entire year is likely to be the warmest in recorded human history, measured in global average temperatures. The previous 5 years from 2015 to 2019 were also the hottest 5 in recorded history.

Before high winds fueled the Pineview Fire at Caughlin Ranch, Northern Nevada experienced a summer of endless wildfires and heavy smoke. When I think of the impact of climate change in 2020, I don’t even think of a global heat record. I think of being stuck at home while avoiding smoky parks and neighborhoods and every crowded indoor space. The year has been a hot, smoky mess.

On the other hand, we now have some great news, including two promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates from Pfizer and Moderna. If these vaccines are effective and we resume a more normal public life, policies are needed to help Nevada communities recover from a historic recession and an unemployment rate of 12%, the second highest rate in the nation.

Folks who have been out of work will need support so that small and new business ventures have the customers they need to thrive. Bipartisan congressional support in March for the CARES Act was a massive achievement for economic relief without parallel in modern America. As policymakers move from rapid relief efforts to long-lasting recovery efforts, Congress should identify policies that provide households with steady and reliable financial support rather than a quick shot to the arm.

How can our political leaders stabilize our climate in cooperation with global partners while supporting a fast economic recovery? First, we need both political parties to work together in Congress. Each chamber of Congress will be narrowly divided since the Democratic House majority will fall under 10 members and the Senate will be evenly matched or tilted slightly to Republicans. We need bipartisan action in order to avoid gridlock.

Second, ambitious executive orders from President-elect Biden or new rules promulgated by his executive agencies are not a reliable path forward. President Obama’s EPA appointees proposed carbon reduction rules in 2014 using Clean Air Act statutes. Deadlines for states to submit their own compliance plans ranged from 2016 to 2018 and the first compliance year was 2022. In 2016, the Supreme Court placed a stay on the new rules while courts worked out the legal limits of EPA rule-making powers. The rules were scrapped by President Trump in 2019, and they can’t be revived without starting from scratch, which would require bipartisan action.

But wait, there’s more! If the 2016 Supreme Court was skeptical of the Clean Power Plan, the Supreme Court of 2021-2022 may not even consider liberal interpretations of legacy environmental statutes. All three of President Trump’s appointees have an aversion to Chevron deference, a presumption that executive branch agencies deserve flexibility while enforcing unclear legal statutes. This came up during Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings, so don’t be surprised if climate policies that rely on new interpretations of old laws are frozen long before they take effect. If the last climate rule-making effort was intended to launch in 2014 and begin compliance after 8 years, then President Biden’s reboot might start in 2021 and take effect . . . too late . . . if the courts will allow it.

Bipartisan climate policy starting in Congress can cut years off of the timeline we need for effective climate action. Without trying to shoehorn a new climate policy into an old law like the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, our policy can be designed efficiently to meet the needs of our modern economy, without attempting complex logical arguments designed for successful legal defenses. Climate policies will do best when they offer simple and clear incentives for exactly the changes we need for a livable planet, rather than a laundry list of compliance checkpoints.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act is one such bipartisan effort that can provide farms with new revenue sources from private carbon markets while improving soil health and sequestering carbon. To reduce the global and local effects of fossil fuels, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would cut carbon emissions by 40% over the next 12 years by providing every American adult with an equal monthly “cash back” payment from a new carbon dividend trust fund, funded by fair and simple carbon fees on all coal, oil, and natural gas fuels.

Since fossil fuel consumption and carbon fee costs would be tilted toward high-income groups, especially because of larger homes, vacation homes, air travel, and shopping habits, the average household would receive slightly more cash back than the changes to the cost of living while higher-income households would receive slightly less of a net benefit . . . unless they cut their emissions. Households below the average income do even better because of their lower carbon footprints combined with the equality of the cash back dividend across the country and across income levels. Finally, businesses would know exactly how to keep their costs low, by reducing carbon pollution, while serving customers who are in better financial condition than is otherwise expected during an economic recovery after a year like 2020.

Please communicate to your elected members of Congress, including Rep. Mark Amodei, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, and Sen. Jacky Rosen, that we need action now to preserve a safe environment and a robust economy. Bipartisan climate policy can grow the economy now and protect future generations from experiencing worsening effects of climate change. Turn this hot mess around.

Michael Collins is the Nevada State Coordinator of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and CCL Reno/Sparks Chapter Member. For more information on CCL.

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent of our opinion page. Published opinions further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence, and invite dissent.