OP-Ed: Paris Meets Philly: The economic and environmental benefits of a carbon swap for Pa. families
It's not usually the case in America that you have an opportunity to use smart, market-based policy to solve two critical problems. A bill now before Congress, called The Market Choice Act, is the exception.
The health of our nation's economy is hugely dependent on our nation's vast network of infrastructure. Highways, bridges, railways, and waterways facilitate the flow of goods and services that are the lifeblood of American commerce.
Our current transportation infrastructure lacks the capacity needed to sustain and grow our economy. This is especially true in Pennsylvania.
A 2018 report from Wall Street 24/7 ranked Pennsylvania the 4th worst in the nation, surpassing only Rhode Island, Hawaii and West Virginia.
Throughout our state, about 7 percent of roads are considered to be in poor condition, 18 percent of bridges are deficient and 53 percent of the state's dams are considered high risk. These unfortunate statistics highlight a backlog of infrastructure maintenance due to chronic underfunding.
The primary funding mechanism for infrastructure, the federal gas tax, fails to generate the revenue needed to meet annual funding needs.
If the gas tax is maintained at current levels, and expenditures continue to increase at projected levels, we will operate at an annual deficit of roughly $20 billion. This is unsustainable and unacceptable, especially to our region's poor and middle-class families.
At the same time, our nation has struggled to arrive at a truly effective plan to curb carbon emissions, the primary driver of climate change.
Climate change, like neglected infrastructure, is costing our economy in the form of increased flooding, more severe storms, and prolonged dangerous heat waves, among other calamities.
It's making our forests and waters less resilient. It's harms bird, fish and plant species. And degrading both the ecosystems on which people rely for clean water and other services nature provides and our Pennsylvania economy on which people's livelihoods are dependent.
What if we could do both? Stimulate infrastructure development and reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. at the same time?
The Market Choice Act, introduced in August by U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., will swap the federal gas tax for a price on carbon in the United States.
This new fee on carbon pollution will start at $24 per metric ton of carbon and generate on average an additional $11 billion per year above current federal transportation infrastructure expenditures.
The bill puts this surplus to work by addressing the safety and productivity of our aging transportation infrastructure.
This investment will boost our economy and create new jobs. The increased infrastructure investment from a modest carbon fee could generate an average of 140,000 jobs per year for the first 10 years. (In 2011, the Council of Economic Advisors estimated that every $1 billion in federal highway and transit investment supports 13,000 jobs for one year.)
The Market Choice Act addresses our nation's urgent infrastructure needs and creates major environmental benefits.
By putting a price on carbon pollution, the bill will make a significant contribution to addressing the challenge of climate change. Independent projections suggest that the bill will reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the economy by as much as 27 percent by 2025 --in line with U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement.
This will drive investment in next-generation clean energy technologies, creating jobs in the clean and renewable energy sector.
Pennsylvania is currently ranked only 11th for clean energy jobs in the United States, with an estimated 80,000 jobs; this sector of Pennsylvania's economy will grow rapidly if this legislation is passed. We can do better, and the MARKET CHOICE Act will help.
We're pleased that 34 U.S. businesses, including BP America, General Motors, PG&E, Shell and IKEA, recently made a public statement recognizing that the most effective way to combat climate change is to harness market forces to drive down carbon emissions.
They believe that "an economy-wide, market-based approach to valuing or pricing carbon, when carefully crafted, can both strengthen our economy and reduce carbon emissions by encouraging technological innovation and stimulating new investments in infrastructure, products and services."
The introduction of the Market Choice Act presents a non-partisan opportunity to demonstrate that combating climate change and strengthening our economy are not mutually exclusive.
Job growth, infrastructure investment, tackling climate change, boosting the economy. It doesn't have to be a hard choice.
U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican, represents the Bucks County-based 8th Congressional District. Because he is running for re-election this will be his only appearance on the PennLive Opinion Page until after the Nov. 6 general election.
Bill Kunze is the Pennsylvania State Director of The Nature Conservancy.