Guest columnists Wendy Berg and Mark Reynolds: Polluters should pay at the border

FILE - The Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) is pictured in downtown Chicago, where the air quality has been categorized “unhealthy” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on June 27, 2023. The EPA says extensive swaths of the northern United States awoke to unhealthy air quality Monday, July 17, or were experiencing it by midafternoon. Fine particle pollution caused by smoke from Canada’s wildfires is causing a red zone air quality index, meaning it is unhealthy for everyone.

FILE - The Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) is pictured in downtown Chicago, where the air quality has been categorized “unhealthy” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on June 27, 2023. The EPA says extensive swaths of the northern United States awoke to unhealthy air quality Monday, July 17, or were experiencing it by midafternoon. Fine particle pollution caused by smoke from Canada’s wildfires is causing a red zone air quality index, meaning it is unhealthy for everyone. AP FILE PHOTO/CLAIRE SAVAGE

Members of Greenpeace gather for a photo around a sign that reads “we will end fossil fuels” at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Members of Greenpeace gather for a photo around a sign that reads “we will end fossil fuels” at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. AP FILE PHOTO/RAFIQ MAQBOOL

By WENDY BERG and MARK REYNOLDS

Published: 02-20-2024 5:23 PM

The magnitude of global climate change has come home to us in Massachusetts. Last summer, flooding caused by intensive storms washed away roads and other critical infrastructure, destroying the crops on many local farms and in our community gardens.

Wildfire smoke from Canada has added to air pollution, harming our health and limiting our outdoor activities. This winter, snowfall in Massachusetts has been below normal levels. Local kids wait in vain for snow they can play in and for ponds to freeze so they can skate. On average there are now 15 fewer nights when the temperature dips below 28 degrees than there were 20 years ago.

Massachusetts is far from alone in this experience. In 2023, communities nationwide saw their lives impacted by unparalleled weather and climate extremes such as wildfires and drifting toxic smoke, droughts, flooding, storms, and record precipitation. Scientists also confirmed last year was the hottest year on record globally.

The destruction and mounting costs from these events are tragic enough. What’s worse? It’s happening because of the ongoing actions of big polluters, many of which are countries the U.S. conducts trade with. They’re pumping Earth’s atmosphere full of carbon pollution, leading to a warmer world and more extreme weather.

As individuals, we sometimes have no choice but to drive a gas car to work, or heat our homes with fossil fuels so our families are warm during winter. We can do our best to make climate-friendly choices, transitioning to clean energy and taking responsibility for reducing our individual carbon footprints. But the carbon footprints of the world’s biggest polluters dwarf our own, and they must be held accountable. In short: Polluters should pay.

It’s a simple idea — and most Americans already support it. A recent poll revealed that 76% of Americans think large polluters should pay for the destructive emissions that overheat the planet and tarnish our air.

According to the 2023 Yale Climate Opinion Maps, 72% of people right here in MA Congressional District 2 support taxing fossil fuel companies. The same idea should hold true for our trading partners on the international stage.

And of course, America should do everything possible to reduce our country’s own carbon pollution. We’re heading in the right direction — U.S. emissions declined 1.9% in 2023 (Rhodium Group), and our economy produces fewer emissions during manufacturing than similar industries overseas. Yet foreign polluters with lower environmental standards can undercut American manufacturers without penalty.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Former social studies teacher returns as principal at Northampton High School
Leading lights: Four Hampshire County women receive state honor as ‘heroines’
Father’s Day 2024: South Hadley’s Rich Marjanski cherishes era coaching his three daughters on the soccer pitch
A ‘Refuse to Lose’ reunion: UMass stars gather to talk about Final Four run for new documentary
Judge denies Rintala’s motion to reduce prison sentence
Columnist Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: The co-op at the heart of the community

Increasingly, countries are moving to hold polluters accountable, often through trade. With 30% of global emissions presently generated by the production and transport of exported and imported goods, it’s a great place to start.

The EU and the U.K. have begun the process of imposing a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) to collect a fee at the border from high-polluting countries that undercut their domestic manufacturers with cheaper, carbon-heavy products.

This policy idea has bipartisan appeal in the U.S., too, since 75% of U.S. imports come from countries with production processes that are more carbon-intensive than we have here at home. In November, Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham introduced the Foreign Pollution Fee Act. Just weeks later, Democrats in the House and Senate reintroduced the Clean Competition Act.

Both bills propose a fee on key materials such as aluminum, cement, iron and steel, and fossil fuels based on their carbon pollution. These policies would level the playing field by charging dirty importers for the difference between their high-emission products and our cleaner domestic goods — and incentivize other countries to do better.

Both bills also include measures intended to exempt developing nations from some or all of the carbon price, to avoid damaging the economies of poorer countries that are not responsible for much of the world’s carbon pollution.

It’s clear that, with a little compromise, legislators can introduce bipartisan CBAM policy that appeals to both sides of the aisle.

When big polluters get a free pass to harm the planet, they cost our communities dearly. It’s time for them to pay a price.

Wendy Berg is a volunteer with the Pioneer Valley chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.