The new Biden Administration has an unbelievably dire situation that it inherits in late January when the new Administration takes office. American is experiencing the worst pandemic in a century, which has already killed more than a third of a million people and forced the closure of many business. Simultaneously, we have the worst economic crisis since the great depression, with many businesses unable to stay in business and employees laid off with no way to pay their accumulating bills. We also have thousands of people dying each year from breathing polluted air from the emissions of a wide range of industrial polluters and, worst of all, we have a climate crisis with baked-in heating as a result of carbon dioxide and methane emissions, that we know needs to be eliminated as quickly as humanly possible, so we can at least keep the problem from getting worse. President Biden and Vice Presiden Harris need a powerful way to address all of these problems altogether and as quickly as possible, in a way that doesn’t bankrupt the government. The innovative Clean Air Relief Act is a proposal that does all that and more!

A Comprehensive Approach to Pollution, Climate & Recovery

There are many things that policy folks might admire about the terms of this proposed legislation but at the top of the list, it is a comprehensive approach that recognizes how integrated all of our problems are. Instead of Biden being obliged to focus on just one emergency at a time, such as working to authorize another enormous Covid relief bill—which is urgently needed but could take a while to get through Congress—this act enables him to address ongoing Covid relief while simultaneously addressing serious pollution, carbon emissions and income inequality, all of which we cannot afford to put off. Yet, the bill does so in a way that is designed not to alienate Republicans or especially call out the fossil fuel companies for vilification in a way that will make them send their lobbying minions to the hill. It addresses many ills in an entirely sensible way that everyone can support simply by putting a reasonable fee on polluters. In that way, it simply aligns penalties on those with the direct responsibility and power to act.

The Clean Air Relief Act (CARA) takes its inspiration from the brilliantly innovative design of the carbon tax and dividend structure proposed by and and now co-sponsored by nearly 90 representatives in HR 763, the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA). Yet CARA makes a few adjustments both in how the tax is applied to industry—namely it become a fee on all kinds of air pollution including CO2 emissions—as well as how the dividend is paid out—it turns this dividend into an ongoing source of Covid relief and economic stimulus for those in need.

Thus CARA treats all polluters equally, making the application of the application of a fee for polluters across the board much more legitimate than was the carbon tax, which Republicans opposed because it singled out fossil fuel companies and made those donors very unhappy.  It means that companies which are polluting in any way are now, finally, penalized under an expansion of the existing Clean Air Act, signed into law fifty years ago, which provided plenty of notice and aligns incentives properly. All polluting companies, fossil fuel companies included but not exclusively, will have to address all manner of their pollution—inclusive of the carbon emissions and methane emissions of their extraction processes—but no more or less than other companies which emit toxic or heat trapping substances. They have benefitted from externalizing their waste: this bill starts to put a price on that and provides the proper motivation for them to clean up their acts.

On the dividend side, CARA’s payments will not go to every citizen, as was proposed by EICDA.  Rather, it will only be paid out to those who otherwise qualify for Covid Relief but will broaden that criteria, so a wider swath of those living at the lowest economic rungs are included.  Best of all, the payments will continue to be paid out, so long as the fees are collected, which will go a long way to providing relief from economic inequality and immediately help raise the standard of living for those on the bottom rungs. No wealthy people will receive payments under CARA, which was the case under the plan proposed by EICDA. Not only will adults receive the monthly stipend, but minors would also qualify equally, with protections that require that the minors’ distributions be placed in investment accounts and used exclusively for the minor’s education or health/well-being purposes.

There are many things to love about this approach which will, most importantly, immediately begin to level the playing field for clean energy generation and place a low but potentially growing fee on carbon and methane emissions, along with all other types of air pollution. The Climate Coalition thus supports CARA and urges the Biden Administration to consider deploying the Clean Air Relief Act (CARA) on day one.  Please share information about CARA with your representatives and networks and let’s ensure that the Biden team is made aware of this plan for solving a host of problems at once.

(Now CARA has a Twitter handle and hashtag: @cleanairrelief1 and #CleanAirReliefAct: please tweet your support to your representative!)