Carbon pricing is coming, and Kansas City is already getting ahead for cleaner air

·4 min read

Carbon pricing — charging entities such as coal plants according to how much carbon pollution they emit — is inevitable, and it will be in Kansas City and everywhere else sooner than you might imagine.

In the last few months, the heavy hitters have come out in favor of carbon pricing: scientific panels and academies, economic bodies and regulators, billionaires like Elon Musk and Bill Gates, and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Business Roundtable, the Electric Power Supply Association, The Wall Street Journal and even the American Petroleum Institute, to name just a few. The momentum is palpable.

As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says, “A carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary” to stabilize global temperatures in their current range. And America’s business interests are aligning with the scientists, because they know that dealing with the effects of unchecked climate change would cost Americans far more than switching from fossil fuels to alternative forms of energy.

Midwesterners would be mistaken in thinking we can opt out of climate action and carbon pricing. The impending doom of sea level rise is forcing coastal states, with far more electoral votes than we have, to fear calamity all along their highly populated shorelines. This April in Florida, a battleground election state, the Republican legislature unanimously passed a bill funding a major effort to protect the state’s 1,350-mile coastline against sea level rise. Alas, poor Florida is built of porous limestone, and studies show that no amount of seawall construction — unaffordable to begin with — can protect it from the many feet of sea level rise expected in the next 100 years. Florida’s only hope, and its cheapest path forward, is to join the world in meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement, thereby keeping the current sea level in place.

Savvy Midwesterners with their head in the climate game are already preparing to decarbonize our future. In March, the Mid-America Regional Council approved its 10-county Climate Action Plan, developed in collaboration with Climate Action Kansas City and other local partners, including Evergy. It would make the Kansas City metropolitan area carbon neutral by 2050 and provide carbon-free electricity by 2035, all the while making the region an even more pleasant place to live.

Carbon pricing legislation currently introduced in Congress would lower America’s fossil fuel emissions by a whopping 30% in just five years and put us on the glide path to meet our goals of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The two bills are Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin’s America’s Clean Future Fund Act and Florida Rep. Ted Deutch’s Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Both would collect gradually rising fees from coal and petroleum producers and give the money back in equal per capita shares to American families, no strings attached.

Market pressures alone will compel businesses and families to reduce their carbon footprints to avoid the rising costs of continued fossil fuel use, incentivizing all of us to transition to affordable, clean alternatives. The Kansas City government and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver are strong supporters of these sorts of carbon fees.

So how do Kansas Citians prepare for the inevitable carbon pricing policies? Right now, nearly all our fossil fuel use falls into three roughly equal groups. The first is electrical production, and Evergy’s carbon-free by 2045 pledge, in concert with President Joe Biden’s national policy, should solve this problem for all of us. The second group is the heating of homes and buildings with natural gas. Fortunately, electric heat pumps and better insulation are cost-effective alternatives, and new 2021 building codes detail how this can be done in new construction or retrofits. The last group is transportation, admittedly the hardest area. Your best solution is to buy a fuel efficient or electric car next time you purchase one. Avoiding unnecessary driving helps a lot as well.

By making wise purchases over the next 25 years, Kansas City families can manage the transition to our carbon-free future and help solve climate change.

Stephen Melton of Parkville is a leader with Citizens’ Climate Lobby of Kansas City.