Protecting Our Climate and the Middle Class

NEWBURG, MD - MAY 29:  Emissions spew out of a large stack at the coal fired Morgantown Generating Station, on May 29, 2014 i
NEWBURG, MD - MAY 29: Emissions spew out of a large stack at the coal fired Morgantown Generating Station, on May 29, 2014 in Newburg, Maryland. Next week President Obama is expected to announce new EPA plans to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal fired power plants. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Our nation faces a number of critical challenges. Two of the most pressing are the need to address the economic costs and public health risks associated with climate change and to strengthen the middle class, so I'm proposing a solution to tackle both.

Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. Over 97 percent of climate scientists agree that our planet is warming, primarily as a result of fossil fuel combustion, and that this warming is already causing more frequent, dangerous, and expensive extreme weather events. Left unchecked, climate change will become increasingly disruptive for every American in the 21st century.

At the same time, our nation's middle class is struggling. While the productivity of our economy increased by 75 percent between 1979 and 2012, wage growth for middle-class workers increased by only 5 percent during the same period. In a recent poll, 85 percent of self-described middle class adults said it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago to maintain their standard of living.

I support the EPA's recently announced carbon rule and commend President Obama for his historic leadership on this issue. But as President Obama himself has said, his administration can't solve the entirety of this challenge on its own. In order to address climate change comprehensively, Congress is going to have to act.

Fortunately, there is a simple, fair, and effective way to combat climate change while supporting the middle class at the same time. The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2014, which I am introducing today, starts by capping carbon pollution and reducing CO2 emissions gradually but steadily to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Carbon pollution permits are auctioned to the first sellers of oil, coal, and natural gas into the U.S. market. And 100 percent of the auction proceeds are returned electronically each quarter to every American with a valid Social Security number in the form of a Healthy Climate Dividend.

By capping carbon emissions, selling permits, and returning the resulting revenue to everyone equally, this "Cap and Dividend" approach achieves the greenhouse gas reductions climate scientists tell us we need to prevent the dangerous consequences of climate change while boosting the purchasing power of American consumers. On an economy-wide level, the price signal placed on carbon pollution will accelerate innovation and incentivize both greater energy efficiency as well as greater use of lower-carbon energy alternatives. And on a household level, the more families are able to reduce their carbon footprint, the more they would stand to gain financially.

The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2014 says to every American: "We're all in this together. We can solve our problems and move everyone forward at the same time." That's America at its best. For our families and our country, that's exactly where we need to be.