Pollution Inequity

Smokestacks near an oil refinery are seen in front of Utah’s Capitol as an inversion settles over Salt Lake City.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently voted to support carbon pricing as an important solution to climate change. The resolution reads, “Be it resolved that the United States Conference of Mayors strongly urges the United States Congress to pass legislation that imposes a price on carbon emissions.” Three North Carolina mayors — Vi Lyles of Charlotte, Robert Johnson of North Wilkesboro and Al Heggins of Salisbury — attended that meeting.

This support from U.S. mayors is a big deal. A price on carbon would offer our city and our country a wide range of benefits and would “promote energy efficiency and accelerate clean energy investments” and “spur innovation and reduce reliance on foreign energy sources.” Last but not least, it would “encourage and empower households and businesses to invest in conservation and domestic carbon-free energy sources.”

Not only would a price on carbon bring those positive changes to our community, but it would also help prevent communities across the country from suffering future harm. Mayors are already on the front lines of dealing with climate change and Greensboro’s mayor and City Council are no exception. Although Mayor Nancy Vaughan was unable to attend this year’s meeting, she helped facilitate a city resolution, approved unanimously by the City Council, in support of federal carbon fee and dividend legislation as a key piece in our fight against the most damaging effects of climate change. With their support, Greensboro was the first of the larger North Carolina cities to pass such a resolution.

When a historic drought hits or a record-breaking flood comes, people in cities like ours want answers and action. Right here in the Triad we have seen flooding from heavy storms. That’s why seeing mayors from North Carolina joining mayors from across the country to advance a climate solution is such an important event. If the U.S. Congress puts a price on carbon pollution as the Conference of Mayors recommends, our emissions will go down, our air will be cleaner and our climate will begin to stabilize.

This national mayoral vote is especially meaningful because there is a carbon pricing bill under consideration at the national level right now. In the U.S. House, more than 50 representatives are co-sponsoring legislation called the Energy Innovation Act (HR 763), which would put a price on carbon pollution and give every American a monthly dividend check. A policy like this will reduce carbon emissions while protecting people financially as America transitions to a clean energy economy. After this strong endorsement from our country’s mayors, I hope U.S. Reps. Ted Budd and Mark Walker and U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis will take a close look at this legislation in Congress and consider supporting it.

Their support would be welcome from people on both sides of the aisle. A recent poll by Republican Frank Luntz found that 75% of Republicans under 40 support putting a price on carbon. Many Democratic voters rank climate change as one of their highest priorities. Economists who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations and every former chair of the Federal Reserve agree that a carbon price is an efficient, effective approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The nonpartisan Conference of Mayors has set a wonderful example for all elected officials by working together, across party lines, on this important issue. Climate change is simply too big a problem to let partisanship get in the way. Even if we don’t agree on everything, people like me and my neighbors do agree that climate change needs to be addressed.

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Ellen Van Velsor is the group leader of the Greensboro chapter and North Carolina’s state coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby.

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