Second, it would be applied progressively, in a way that returns the majority of the tax revenue to the American people, with a focus first on Americans who spend relatively high percentages of their income on carbon-based fuels, such as the poor, the elderly and those on fixed incomes, in order to substantially if not fully compensate for the increase in prices of essentials such as food, gasoline and electricity. Additionally, the revenue would be returned to workers whose livelihoods may be significantly impacted by the transition from carbon-based and renewable energy sources, through job training and procurement of other forms of employment.
Third, it would distribute a percentage of this revenue to support the transition from finite fossil fuel sources to renewable and infinite sources or energy. This is necessary for the long-term ecological and economic viability and sustainability of national and global human society.
Fourth, it would create a similar tax on imported goods (through a border tax adjustment) to ensure that American businesses are not disadvantaged.
To hasten this necessary energy transition, the tax benefits and other subsidies enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry over the past century must end. In its stead: a startup of the institutionalization of national policies supporting research, development and deployment of renewable-energy production.
Inaction on these fronts is financially unfeasible, as the GAO report suggests. The benefits of action rise dramatically the sooner action is taken, based on the precautionary principle that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The repercussions of the ecological debt we are leaving to future generations, if unaddressed, will be far greater than our economic debt. A greener economy is waiting for us; now it’s up to us to seize it.
Michael Shank directs the foreign policy program at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Jose Aguto directs the environment and energy program at the FCNL.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.