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Florida Lawmakers Discuss Climate Dividend Act Amid Global Student Strikes

Students Protest for Action Against Climate Change Outside Miami Beach City Hall
Caroline Lewis/Cleo Foundation
Students Protest for Action Against Climate Change Outside Miami Beach City Hall

Thousands of Florida students are demanding lawmakers and politicians act on climate issues. Across the state, students from Miami to Melbourne, and Fort Lauderdale to Jacksonville, skipped school as part of the Global Climate Strike. Protestors hope to put pressure on lawmaker to act faster on climate issues.

16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg inspired the climate strikes. The action comes ahead of a planned UN Climate Action Summit that takes place next week in New York.

Two Florida congressmen who head the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus on Capitol Hill introduced legislation to put a price on carbon and return all of the net revenue as a rebate to American families.

Congressmen Ted Deutch and Francis Rooney joined the Florida Roundup.

An excerpt follows.

The Florida Roundup: It's called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. How would it work?

Congressman Ted Deutch: Thanks so much for having me on, especially on this day when there's climate action led by young people all over the country and all over the globe. It’s a powerful moment, and we need to recognize that the voices that are out in the streets today aren't just making a one-time statement — that they understand that their future is at stake, that the planet is being left to them in a worse condition, and they're not standing for it. So I'm thrilled to be with you today.

The way that our bill works is very simply to put a price on carbon, to tax carbon at its source and then to make sure that all of the dollars that are collected — everything that comes in from those payments — is rebated directly to the American people. We'll get as close to net zero as we can with this bill, but that's not enough. We ultimately have to get to net zero. That's what we're trying to accomplish, and this is the first serious bipartisan effort ever in climate change in decades.

The Florida Roundup: It certainly is, Congressman Rooney. You also helped win bipartisan support here in Florida to ban offshore drilling in the state. And you got a lot of attention. Recently  you published a widely-read op-ed. The title was ‘I'm a Conservative Republican. Climate Change is Real.’ So how do you get Republicans in the Congress, along with more than a few Democrats, to support the notion of a carbon tax to bring down carbon emissions that are driving climate change?

Congressman Francis Rooney: It's an important bill. And the argument that I'm using with our team, the Republicans, is that the coal is six to seven times more carbon-centric than natural gas — and it's a lot more than that when you sequester and capture carbon from natural gas and capture methane. When you say, you look at that, you say ‘why not use the carbon tax to both raise some money that we can use for environmental needs and other needs and to give back to the American people like our bill, and take coal out of the market to  improve our energy mix?’

The Florida Roundup: Congressman Deutsch, you know progressives in the U.S. House of Representatives are calling for a Green New Deal. And that has yet to gain any traction in the House. Critics say it's unrealistic. It could hurt business in setting these aggressive targets to reduce emissions — and the Green New Deal, by the way, doesn't include a carbon pricing structure. So, how do you find common ground between those youthful activists pushing for a Green New Deal and those in Congress who don't feel the urgency that the protesters and your cohorts in the Congress feels on this issue?

Representative Ted Deutch: That last group that you referenced, the people who don't feel urgency -- they're not my focus right now. They're going to feel it because these young people are going to make them feel it. It's very simple. The climate is changing. The planet is warming. Humans are the culprits. We need to take action.

It's true the Green New Deal doesn't have a carbon tax in it, but I've had lots of conversations with some of the people who are the strongest advocates, and we're all on the same page about the ambitious goals of getting to net zero and changing behavior of polluters. This carbon fee is a significant step that we can take to help accomplish that big piece of what's necessary in order for us to get to net zero. It's all consistent with the big picture.

We've got to take action. This has to be a priority. This is an urgent moment for the planet and we all have to work together to address it. Greta Thunberg was in our committee this week. She testified in front of members of the House and there's nothing more powerful than hearing Greta and hearing the kids who have sued the federal government because their constitutional rights are being violated by this reliance on fossil fuels. Having them come to Washington to share with us how they view the urgency of this matter — we're all in this together and this is one piece of it. But I am, I'm fully supportive of what the young folks are doing all around the world today to elevate this issue so that everyone understands it.

The Florida Roundup: Congressman Rooney, do you think the testimony of Greta Thunberg and the other youth activists are moving some of your colleagues on the Hill or not?

Congressman Francis Rooney: Well, it can't hurt. You know, you never know what is going to be the commentary or op-ed or protest that's going to get things moved down the field, but I know that in our area, Ted's and mine, when the citizens had uproar about the sugar industry putting polluted water into Lake Okeechobee, they got it stopped. And so every time someone like this lady comes and speaks articulately and talks about science-based solutions to climate change, I think that that's going to help advance the ball.

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Denise Royal
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