Khalid Pitts is co-owner of Cork Wine Bar & Market. Roger Horowitz is co-founder of Pleasant Pops.
We know most of our customers by name. There’s Jennifer, the public-education advocate around the corner. And Ari, the full-time mom up the street. And Judith, the 80-year-old retiree who walks seven blocks to get to one of our shops. We are small-business owners in the District, proud to provide goods and services at an affordable cost. But we are also neighbors.
Which is why, when we see what happened in Puerto Rico and Florida and Texas, we grieve for all the small communities affected. We see the family shopkeepers and mechanics wiped out by the hurricanes, creating setbacks for their neighbors. And increasingly, we recognize that extreme weather, driven more and more by climate change, threatens all economic activity.
So we wonder: How can D.C. businesses and residents do our part to address our climate crisis? The answer: We need to get off carbon-based fossil fuels, the main source of climate change, as fast as possible. But we need to “decarbonize” our city’s economy in a way that supports business growth without burdening our residents, especially the low- and moderate-income residents who are many of our neighbors.
Which is why we support a novel policy under consideration by the D.C. Council called the Climate and Community Reinvestment Act. It would require fossil-fuel companies doing business in the District to pay a fee for every ton of carbon dioxide they put into the atmosphere. The policy would then rebate the overwhelming share of the collected revenue — hundreds of millions of dollars — to D.C. households and small businesses such as ours. A recent economic study shows that this “fee-and-rebate” policy would cut carbon emissions nearly 23 percent in the city while expanding the District’s economy, creating more jobs and raising the incomes of most Washington residents, especially the poor and middle class.
The pollution reductions are achieved by simply making dirty-energy suppliers pay their fair share. D.C. restaurants are not allowed to dump their trash into the street each night. But oil and gas and coal companies can dump carbon pollution into our atmosphere for free. Charging a fee of $20 per ton of pollution starting in 2019 (rising to $150 by 2032) will ensure that those fuels are gradually priced out of the D.C. market. Wind and solar and energy efficiency will prevail.
But won’t rising fossil-fuel prices harm residents and businesses, especially small stores? No, not under the fee-and-rebate policy supported by a growing number of civic, labor, environmental and business groups in the city. By rebating no less than 80 percent of the carbon fee in monthly payments to all D.C. residents and tax breaks to commercial enterprises, we can protect small businesses and the overwhelming majority of residents. Indeed, under this plan, low-income residents would receive $4 in rebate payments for every $1 they pay in energy “taxes.” Additionally, 20 percent of the city’s total carbon fee revenue would be invested directly into a “green bank” or other programs to help residents and businesses finance solar panels or efficiency upgrades.
The Post endorsed this fee-and-rebate policy, calling it an especially thoughtful economic response to the climate crisis for the city. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) have said a carbon fee is increasingly likely in the coming months. These same leaders joined Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) in pledging that the city would defy President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement by achieving Districtwide greenhouse gas reductions that match the Paris goals. A local carbon fee-and-rebate policy is the single best way to honor that pledge.
For businesspeople, the bottom line has to be a central concern, and here’s the bottom line on fossil fuels: They are bad for business. We need to put a local “price” on carbon to make sure disastrous storms such as Harvey and Maria don’t harm our customers. By embracing a fair, effective and equitable fee-and-rebate policy in the District, we can help lead the international clean-energy movement and serve as an inspiration to other jurisdictions in the country.
The D.C. Council should pass the Climate and Community Reinvestment Act as soon as possible. We can’t wait any longer.
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