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Who is going to pick up the unpaid carbon tab? Climate change legislation places the burden where it belongs.

Published: December 16, 2019 by Editorial Team

Pacific Northwest wildfires have been increasing in severity and size each year as a result of the changing climate. As the threat of wildfire increases, we find ourselves short of funding for wildfire prevention and suppression. Similar scenes will continue to play out in various sectors as the climate changes and communities are forced to adapt. How will this adaptation be funded? Carbon reduction legislation can be an effective source of climate change funding if it puts the burden where it belongs: on high emissions sectors.

The USFS and BLM report “2018 Pacific Northwest Wildland Fire Season” shows a striking increase in the number of acres burned over the past decade. The Fourth National Climate Assessment indicates that the Pacific Northwest has warmed nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900 leading to warmer winters, longer summers, and less snowpack. Particularly worrisome is the risk of wildfire in the dense and historically wet Pacific Coast Range. The climate trend is clear and we are already being forced to respond to the changes wrought by a warming planet.

Responding and adapting to climate change costs money and raising public money can be contentious. For example, a recently proposed bill by Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands seeks to raise $63 million each year for wildfire response and prevention. This funding would be paid for by a statewide insurance surcharge but it has been met with political opposition claiming it would place an unfair burden on farmers and small businesses. Yet, this bill was only introduced after multiple attempts to pass climate legislation that put the burden where it belongs – on high emitting sectors – failed after meeting staunch political opposition. As a point of comparison, California made $248 million in funds available for wildfire response and fuels reduction from the state’s $1.46 billion 2018-2019 Cap-and-Trade expenditure fund.

As the changing climate increasingly forces us to spend money to save our communities, it behooves any opponents of climate legislation to think long and hard on who they propose should pick up the unpaid carbon tab left by large greenhouse gas emitting sectors.