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Illinois Country Living

Climate Change Policy Hits Your Pocketbook
Policy will decide increases in electric bills

Congress and the federal government are focused on prioritizing climate change policy. Given the long list of environmental impacts and expensive solutions, any action taken to address the issue will certainly increase the cost of electricity we use everyday.

Climate change proposals seek to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide in particular. In the United States, power plants that burn fossil fuels produce about 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year. That works out to about 39 percent of the nation’s man-made output of the gas—the largest single source.

Electric cooperatives are involved in cutting edge work to develop new technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, but those options aren’t yet ready for prime time. They’re limited, largely untested and expensive. Yet potential legislation would rely on them to make significant carbon dioxide cuts nationwide.

A key committee in the U.S. House of Representatives has announced plans to consider a climate change bill by this summer, one that may, for the first time, classify carbon dioxide as a pollutant and impose a cap-and-trade tax to limit carbon emissions. Cap-and-trade systems work by setting a specific limit on airborne pollutants from sources like power plants, factories and refineries, and require those sources to account for all emissions with issued allowances.

Cap-and-trade has worked well during the past 15 years to reduce emissions of acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide nationwide and over the last decade to curb smog-creating nitrogen oxides in the eastern half of the country. However, some cap-and-trade tax proposals for carbon dioxide contain a new twist: pricey allowances.

Allowances would be auctioned off at undetermined prices, leading to huge cost burdens for any source of carbon dioxide emissions. In the case of power plants, those costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers using the power, in some cases adding $50 or more to electric bills each month. In late February, the Obama Administration pointed to such a system as a new, substantial source of revenue for the federal government—effectively muddying the initial environmental argument for regulating carbon dioxide.

Such a backdoor tax increase would force electric cooperatives to essentially become tax collectors for the federal government, and allow Wall Street investors to set allowance prices and determine how much you pay for electricity.

We need to help Congress draft an energy solution that accomplishes environmental goals while taking affordability into account. But time may be tight: if Congress fails to act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stands ready to step in, leaving decisions that affect consumers’ pocketbooks up to unelected bureaucrats.

Electric cooperatives want to work with Congress to address climate change in an affordable and environmentally responsible fashion. We’re ready to provide insight into how various policy proposals will impact consumers, and urge lawmakers to reach the right answers.

National energy and climate change policy must focus on reducing emissions, not on “revenue enhancement” for federal government. Money generated, through a cap-and-trade tax or otherwise, must be used wisely: devoted to developing related technology or returned to those who foot the bill. And Congress should take the lead on climate change, not regulators or Wall Street speculators.

In unity with 42 million other electric co-ops consumers around the country, urge your U.S. representative and senators to work with electric cooperatives to keep electric bills affordable. Get involved in this effort by participating in the Our Energy, Our Future™ grassroots campaign at

© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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