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Rhode Island senator calls for carbon tax, urges 'Corporate America to show up'

Akiko Fujita
·Anchor/Reporter
·3 min read
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Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has urged Congress to tackle climate change for nine years, calling for carbon pricing to incentivize some of the largest polluters in the country to act.

Now, he wants Corporate America to join his fight.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance Live, the Democratic lawmaker implored “the good guys in Corporate America to show up” and actively engage in legislative discussion that leads to meaningful climate policy. Between its efficacy and its prospect as a roadway to bipartisanship, I think [carbon pricing] is a very very important goal. But it's a goal that we will not likely achieve if Corporate America doesn't start to show up and take an interest in climate legislation in Congress,” Whitehouse said. “So far the only sincere effort that's been made has been by the fossil fuel industry against our work.”

Specifically, Whitehouse is looking to reintroduce legislation that places a price on greenhouse gas emissions through a carbon tax or fee, to create financial incentives for companies to lower their carbon dioxide output. The fee would start at $52 per metric ton of emissions, and increase annually by 6% over inflation. It would be assessed on “fossil fuels when mined, processed, refined, or imported; on large emitters of non-fossil-fuel-based greenhouse gases; and on producers and importers of certain industrial gases with high global warming potential.”

The senator estimates carbon pricing will generate $2.3 trillion in revenue over the first decade, pointing to research conducted by think tank Resources for the Future. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will be slashed in half, Whitehouse said.

“We're probably five to 10 years late. So, the timing is getting really urgent about doing something,” Whitehouse said. “The position of Corporate America is not against carbon pricing. It's actually for carbon pricing and our task is going to be to make it efficacious in dealing with the climate problem”

Publicly, U.S. corporations and investors have pushed for aggressive reforms to tackle the climate crisis. Microsoft (MSFT) aims to be carbon-negative by 2030, while Delta Airlines (DAL) committed $1 billion commitment to be carbon neutral in the next decade. In his annual letter to CEOs, BlackRock (BLK) CEO Larry Fink said the pandemic has “driven us to confront the global threat of climate change more forcefully” and called for a more “ambitious response.”

Yet, Whitehouse said few companies have lobbied for change behind the scenes, in Congress. He pointed to lobbying and trade group TECHNET, which represents companies like Alphabet (GOOG), Apple (AAPL), and Zoom Video Communications (ZM), as one example. When the organization brought a 13-page priority list to Congress last year, he said there was no mention of climate change or renewable energy.

‘We’re gonna have to redraw the map’

Tackling the climate crisis has taken on increased urgency for Whitehouse because of the impact he sees back home in Rhode Island and its roughly 400-mile coastline. The flooding risk of properties along the water, is expected to increase nearly 15% in the next three decades, because of changes stemming from a warming climate, according to a study conducted by First Street Foundation.

“The map of Rhode Island has looked the same for as long as there has been Rhode Island...now, because we haven't been able to manage the problem of carbon pollution, we're gonna have to redraw the map of Rhode Island. A lot of memories, a lot of economic value, and a lot of family homes and businesses are going to be lost to rising seas,” Whitehouse said. “The warnings are just deadly serious out there, and we need to get after it. I don't want to be the senator who presided over the redrawing of the map of his own already small enough state.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita