Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

One of D.C.’s most climate-conscious senators is pushing for a carbon pricing bill, though what chance it has of actually making it through Congress is anyone’s guess.

You may remember Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) from a stirring speech he delivered in late July on the facts of climate change. His speech was aimed at James Inhofe in particular, a Republican Senator from Oklahoma notorious for his climate denial. Inhofe has previously called climate change the “biggest hoax” perpetrated against mankind.

Whitehouse, before describing how the majority of carbon emissions are absorbed by the ocean and not the atmosphere (thus explaining why atmospheric temperatures have only risen slightly while ocean temperatures are noticeably increasing), told Inhofe that he seemed to be living in an “alternate reality.”

On Tuesday, Whitehouse told a gathering of New York University students that he would be introducing a carbon-pricing bill in November.

The senator explained that, just as climate scientists support the facts behind man-made climate change, so do economists support a tax on industrial pollution.

“What does not receive as much attention is that there’s even greater consensus amongst economists, starting from Milton Friedman and moving into the most left-wing economists that you could find, that the obvious correct public policy solution to this is to put a price on carbon,” he said.

Cap-and-trade has long been debated as a viable method of reducing pollution and holding companies responsible for their atmospheric waste, and China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has already pledged that it will implement its own nationwide cap-and-trade program starting in 2016.

Whitehouse said he will reveal more details about his carbon fee bill in the coming weeks, but has outlined some very optimistic estimates for its potential revenue.

“My legislation will generate significant new federal revenue—perhaps as much as two trillion dollars over the first decade,” he said. “Every dollar of this revenue should be returned to the American people.”

This money could go towards “relieving student loans debt, boosting Social Security benefits to seniors, [and] providing transition assistance to workers in fossil-fuel industries.”

A carbon fee would be a relatively simple regulation to add to industrial processes, but will face extreme challenges when Whitehouse actually submits it to Congress. The Republican party has adopted an almost unanimous anti-climate change agenda, and surmounting that will arguably be more difficult than reducing climate change itself.

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