Environmental advocates applaud bipartisan support for carbon fee and dividend

Jun 1, 2018
Originally published on May 31, 2018 12:55 pm

The Citizens' Climate Lobby is making progress in its efforts to get federal legislation introduced to mitigate the effects of climate change.

"Five years ago, it felt like a pipe dream, but we're the closest we've ever been to seeing something like this introduced," said Sarah Mittiga, co-leader of the Rochester chapter of the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works both locally and in Washington to garner support for one measure on which the group is laser-focused:   A carbon fee and dividend.

"The idea with carbon fee and dividend is to put a fee on carbon at the source,” she said. “Fossil fuel companies, when they're pulling carbon out of the ground, at the mine, at the well...putting a fee there. Then that money that's collected, rather than see that as a tax that goes back to the government, it's being evenly distributed to American households."

The market-based solution to climate change appeals to Penfield town supervisor Tony LaFountian, a Republican.

"We're the current stewards and the elected officials,” LaFountain said. “If we're going to support and help and make things better for our future generations, all of us need to step up, regardless of whether we're Democrat or Republican."

The Penfield town council along with the town council in Brighton and the Irondequoit town board recently approved a resolution that calls on Congress to consider the carbon fee and dividend.

LaFountain says it's a natural next step for his town, which continues to look for ways to reduce its carbon footprint.  There have been efforts to reduce municipal vehicle emissions and install electric charging stations, and ground will be broken soon on a new, 1.2 megawatt solar farm on Jackson Road.

"We're certainly concerned about this issue, as I think everyone is,” he said. “We're doing our part and if everybody continues to do their part, that could have a very favorable impact across the country and across the world."

LaFountain doesn’t believe supporting pro-climate legislation is necessarily a political risk for a Republican. 

Sarah Mittiga says there's a ripple effect of support for the carbon fee locally and nationally, and the narrative of partisan gridlock isn't entirely true.

"When the town of Penfield was able to see, 'Oh look, our federal legislators are taking a stand on this and they weren't primaried; they were able to continue representing their districts and their beliefs', and it empowered them to be able to do the same. I think that's really where this momentum is coming from."

Penfield, Irondequoit, and Brighton now join the town of Pittsford and the city of Rochester in their support of the carbon fee.

The Citizens' Climate Lobby plans to reach out to town leaders on the West Side to try to get them on board.

In Congress, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus includes eight of the nine New York Republican House members, and Mittiga says the Climate Lobby has a good relationship with the only missing member, John Katko of Syracuse.

Members of the Climate Lobby will be in Washington on June 12 for their national lobby day.