Climate crisis messenger begins ‘tough’ tour through the West promoting bill

Posted 2/13/20

Bill Barron is a soft talking carpenter from Salt Lake City with a big message. Last week, he began a tour of Wyoming — a state he calls one of his biggest challenges.

Barron is the regional …

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Climate crisis messenger begins ‘tough’ tour through the West promoting bill

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Bill Barron is a soft talking carpenter from Salt Lake City with a big message. Last week, he began a tour of Wyoming — a state he calls one of his biggest challenges.

Barron is the regional coordinator for the Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in San Diego, with an office in Washington, D.C. Traveling the West between Montana Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, his job is “engaging citizens and empowering them to become advocates for climate issues.”

The organization has a unique approach in advocating for proposed legislation called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act at the federal level. Chapters of volunteers are currently being organized across the country to develop a consistent message designed to navigate the middle road between the left and the right sides of the political landscape.

“We know that in order for us to pass durable legislation we need to build support on both sides of the aisle,” Barron said. “We call it the far middle.”

The act is designed to put a gradually increasing fee on the carbon content of fuels, including crude oil, natural gas, coal, or any other product derived from those fuels that will be used so as to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The fee is imposed on the producers or importers of the fuels and is equal to the greenhouse gas content of the fuel, multiplied by the carbon fee rate.

The rate begins at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, increases by $10 each year, and is subject to further adjustments based on the progress in meeting specified emissions reduction targets; the bill also imposes a fee on fluorinated greenhouse gases. All the money is collected into a pool, “not to increase the size of the government,” but to redistribute the funds back to households, Barron said.

“It would be run through the IRS, similar to stimulus checks,” he explained during a visit to Park County last week, adding, “If you want less of something, you make it more expensive.”

“It’s not like a huge increase,” he said, “but it’s enough to start having people pay attention that there is more cost to using carbon based fuels.”

The bill includes exemptions for fuels used for agricultural purposes, by the U.S. Armed Forces, and border adjustment provisions that require certain fees or refunds for carbon-intensive products that are exported or imported. It also offers rebates for facilities that capture and sequester carbon dioxide — a pet project of Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.

The bill also suspends certain regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions. The suspensions expire if the emissions targets established by this bill are not reached after a specified time period.

Barron spoke at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, sponsored by Wyoming Rising, to discuss the act, H.R. 763, and search for willing volunteers. The bill’s main sponsor is U.S. Rep. Theodore Deutch, D-Fla. It was referred to the Subcommittee on Energy by the Committee on Energy and Commerce late last month. The bill has 77 co-sponsors, including one lone Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida.

The benefit, Barron said, comes when citizens decide to lower their carbon footprint. It could mean that if you’re willing to ride a bike, take public transportation or drive a fuel efficient vehicle, you come out ahead on the money initially paid at the gas pump.

“We’re trying to be really careful to not dictate how people should live,” he stressed. “We want to have accountability to the pollution that fuels burn. And then people can choose how they want to do it.”

Barron admits there are still issues to be worked out. For example, here in the rural parts of the West, people travel further for necessities and there are few public transportation options. He hopes once the act is made into law, there will be companion legislation to address regional issues.

Critics of the bill are worried the legislation hinders the federal government from regulating greenhouse gases in ways other than carbon taxes.

“Carbon taxes wrongly focus on making carbon intensive energy more expensive, rather than making clean energy more affordable,” said Food and Water Watch, a D.C.-based non-governmental organization focused on corporate and government accountability, in a recent release.

Both organizations assert fossil fuels are a problem, substantially adding to the climate crisis; Gov. Gordon recently called it the “single-most important issue on Earth.”

“Change is coming,” Barron warns. He says the question is, “How can Wyoming navigate a way forward knowing that changes are inevitable?”

“This won’t be easy,” he said, “but the more Wyoming resists, the harder it will be for future generations.”

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