OPINION - Guest column

Here’s how to support climate bills

In August, the Pew Research Center found that 69 percent of Americans want strong climate solutions now, mostly to be accomplished by adding clean energy and phasing out fossil fuel. Democrats and people under 30 tended to be more concerned than Republicans or people over 65.

Climate solutions are our chance for future life. Congress either does not know or does not care about many of the measures that, if passed, would make great progress. Since the oil and gas and coal industries fund many Arkansas legislators' campaigns, you can understand why they don't vote often for climate solutions. They want to keep their jobs; your votes could make sure that does not happen.

Progress on using less fossil fuel is happening in scattered locales, but we need a much faster pace to guarantee that our damaged atmosphere survives our appetites for big cars, big homes, and expensive gadgets. Some wish we could have economic prosperity and keep a healthy atmosphere and air, but this is a questionable concept spouted by the "growth machine," which puts localities in chronic competition with one another in ways that harm the vast majority of their citizens as well as their environments.

If the U.S. could reduce fossil fuel use to that of the 1950s and keep its population static, we would be doing our part.

Here are some pending bills we should urge the U.S. Congress to pass:

The Permitting Reform Act, allowing speedier permits for things like small nuclear plants, offshore wind, and more high-voltage transmission lines, sending wind and nuclear power to areas that need it. This should cut taxpayer costs for energy.

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act puts a port tax on overseas imports relative to the amount of carbon emitted to produce them. It would also tax fossil fuel corporations (especially those paying no taxes), according to the amount of their carbon emissions.

The tax collected will be disbursed to each taxpaying family by a dividend check each month with which they can buy anything they want; it is suggested they buy energy-saving goods, solar arrays, or EVs, since the cost of electricity will go up as the world runs out of oil and gas. Health and survival costs will do the same.

In his book "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need," Bill Gates says many places on Earth will be uninhabitable by 2030-2050. In Rio de Janeiro on Nov. 17, the temperature reached 138, and a Taylor Swift fan died of heat causes just before Taylor took the stage.

The Healthy Forests Initiative Act would wrap energy-saving practices into the Farm Bill. It would encourage forestry that suppresses wildfires and provide more safety and training for firefighters. U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman is co-sponsoring this bill with a Democrat.

The Big Wires Act would bring high-voltage transmission to communities from far away, such as offshore or other wind sources. It allows regions to decide how they want to reroute electric transmission, so that up to 30 percent of peak power in any given region could help regions hit by storms or blackouts. This does not cost the government any money and will save customers a bundle, since cheaper power can be purchased from elsewhere.

The Technical Support Program Act provides training for agriculture and forestry workers so that best practices such as smarter land use and carbon reduction practices can be funded. It will be neutral on the subject of which clean energy technology to support: It will support them all.

The average age of the Arkansas farmer is about 62, and many can't do all the farm jobs themselves. It also would retrain coal miners and oil workers in clean energy technical skills.

This bill uses programs like the State Workforce Development Services, NWA Community College's bicycle tech program, John Brown University's degree program in clean energy technology design, and the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana and Arkansas State University in Jonesboro's online programs in solar tech.

Another non-college solar training experience is provided by Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center outside Little Rock: a three-day residential school costing $1,070 to learn to be a solar installer.

The Senate just passed the Growing Climate Solutions act by a bipartisan majority vote, including that of our Sen. John Boozman. It's popular with farmers, industry, and pro-climate businesses because it allows foresters and landowners to develop carbon sinks and sell carbon credits to farmers, who use these offsets to farm more carbon-neutrally. The bill gives the authority to issue and regulate these credits to the Department of Agriculture.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act was bipartisan (there is a Bipartisan Climate Caucus), and was supported by 175 organizations, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Citizens' Climate Lobby. This bill involves the nature-based climate solution of tree planting, which takes carbon from the air and puts it back into the ground where it belongs.

The carbon level in our air should be below 350 parts per million, but due to the continuing prevalence of burning organic material, in 2022 it reached 441 parts per million (https://www.iamrenew.com). The Royal Society in England predicts over 500 ppm by 2050 if we keep living this way.

In 2022, the Congress (well, the Democrats) passed the $350 billion Inflation Reduction Act. Please write to complain that your members of Congress did not help pass it when they had the chance: they played politics instead.

This historic climate legislation will draw down carbon. The reason for its name is that it will bring down the cost of electricity, which reduces inflation. This bill pays for new transmission lines, American electric car tax rebates, hundreds more chargers across the country, weatherization and remodeling of buildings, and tax rebates on purchases of Energy Star appliances and heat pumps.

Since refrigeration is the main source of carbon emission, our government is helping us buy appliances and HVAC systems that use less energy. The money for reducing inflationary energy costs will be administered through each state's department of environment and energy. At present, the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment is working on setting up a plan.

To make inputs on the Arkansas plan, contact either Metroplan, Western Planning and Development District, or the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission. They have been gathering public input for weeks; the final plan is due by April 1, 2024.

To help with climate solutions, visit the websites of the Citizens' Climate Lobby (see Community, then Arkansas) and the Union of Concerned Scientists, and joining one or the other.

And please call your U.S. representative today. They need to ignore their contributors and vote to save our nation. If they do not do so, use your vote to support their competition for office in November.

Dina Nash is a retired social worker and criminologist who lives in Fayetteville.

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