It’s 5:30 p.m. on a typical Wednesday afternoon in Falls Church. I’m driving my sister home from our daily swim practice. We cross a bridge overlooking Interstate 495 south, and I cannot see any asphalt, only a ribbon of unmoving red brake lights. My foot already aches from the thought of pumping the brakes all evening long. And, as an environmental studies major at Yale University, I can see what others may not: a thousand idling engines spewing carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other harmful chemicals into the air.
Is this Northern Virginia’s future? More people, more urban sprawl, more cars, more congestion? More carbon clogging our atmosphere? This scenario is not just irritating, it also could endanger our lives.
When we drive or idle, we burn gasoline. Our tailpipes emit carbon and its byproducts. Carbon dioxide causes two major problems. It creates smog, the hazy pollution visible on hot days. Smog is a powerful asthma trigger. And carbon traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Not only do rising temperatures worsen the effects of smog, but they also increase the frequency and severity of floods and storms in our low-lying region. I’ve lived in Northern Virginia my whole life. Based on the number of times public schools and the government have closed at the slightest hint of adverse weather, I fear Northern Virginia is woefully underprepared for these extreme weather events.
Congress is discussing a simple economic solution to steer our region away from both congestion and carbon. Under the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan, corporations would be taxed for their carbon emissions. The proposed starting price is $40 per ton of carbon. This makes sense: The negative effects of carbon have a price, and the price should be paid by the polluter, not by us. Then, 100 percent of the revenue collected from the tax would be equally divided and returned to the American people.
People living inside the Beltway know that gridlock is just as present in the Capitol building as it is in our daily commutes. Amazingly, though, the Baker-Shultz plan has garnered support from conservatives, liberals, environmentalists, business leaders, and oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil and Shell. As the plan circulates through Congress, it could use your support too, and here’s why.
Northern Virginia’s economy especially would thrive under a carbon-dividends plan. Our area is a hub for clean-technology innovations. Under a carbon price, renewable fuels such as wind, solar and battery storage would become cost-competitive. Siemens USA and AES have developed some of the nation’s most efficient renewable energy technologies right here in their Northern Virginia headquarters.
Northern Virginia is known as the data-center capital of the United States. Data centers here store the confidential information of huge corporations such as Amazon, Microsoft and CenturyLink. All three corporations have set strict goals for environmental sustainability. They soon will require their data centers, which use vast amounts of electricity, to be powered entirely by renewable energy. Thousands of construction jobs will become available to meet growing demand for rows of new solar panels and wind turbines.
Finally, a carbon tax would incentivize investments in ride-sharing programs and spur improvements in public transportation. Perhaps at last, we would clear our roads of cars at rush hour.
The citizens of Northern Virginia will earn a direct monetary benefit under a carbon tax. The authors of the Baker-Shultz plan are mostly noteworthy conservative economists, and they estimate that a family of four would receive $2,000 worth of carbon dividends in the first year alone. This is revolutionary. Unlike most federal taxes, which disappear into the abyss of the treasury, a carbon dividend would provide more disposable income, boost our economy, improve the health of our children and help prevent weather-related disasters.
The most influential action you can take to support a carbon-dividends plan is to spread the word. The Baker-Shultz plan is gaining traction in Congress right now. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) had a 9 percent rating on environmental issues from the League of Conservation Voters in 2017. She should endorse an environmental policy that increases the economic welfare of businesses and people in her district.