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Local View: Urge the momentum that's building for carbon pricing

The tremendous damage sustained by the U.S. mainland and its territories, such as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, from a trio of exceptionally powerful hurricanes is coming into sharp, financial focus. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which nailed Texas and Florida, will together cost a quarter of the total hurricane damage for the country from 1980 to the present. Hurricane Maria's damage will cost as much as $90 billion in Puerto Rico, and recovery will take years.

The unheard-of 50 inches of rain that fell on Houston is impossible to ignore. And yet, the administration of President Donald Trump insists now is not the time to discuss climate change.

At the same time, behind the scenes, the Clean Power Plan is being altered beyond recognition by the EPA. The Department of Energy has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants.

Really? Unfortunately, the answer is as simple as following the money. Industries used to be limited in the amounts of money they could spend in federal campaigns. Now, unlimited amounts of money can be wielded with all the elegance of a cudgel against members of Congress by entire industries. Fully funded primary challengers are always on the table for any Republican representative or senator who dares to challenge the fossil-fuel industries. As reported by CNN, over 50 percent of the Republican Party's funds now come from this single industry. The coal industry alone shovels 96 percent of its contributions solely to the Republican Party. In this light, it is easy to see why the Republican Party is the only major political party on the planet to deny that climate change is happening.

And yet there are increasing numbers of Republican members of the House who are bucking their party. Before the 2016 election, there were just 18 members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, nine of whom were Republican. Now, the number has mushroomed to 60 members. At 30, the Republicans in the caucus are nearly as numerous as the Tea Party's Freedom Caucus.

Among the Democrats is the Northland's own Rep. Rick Nolan. Pricing carbon and giving the proceeds directly back to the American people — a plan called "carbon fee and dividend" — is being seriously considered.

Meanwhile, back home in Minnesota, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, who is running for governor, is campaigning for a state version of carbon fee and dividend. With 75 percent given back to the people of Minnesota and 25 percent spent on renewable-energy development and energy conservation, this proposal promises to correct our current market failure, by which it is free to pollute and taxpayers pay for hurricane damage.

Renewable-energy sources, such as those being developed by the University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute, are more expensive than fossil fuels because the price of fossil fuels does not include the cost of climate-related disasters. A state carbon fee and dividend plan would make forest-based fuels such as torrefied wood, wood-based fuel oil, and jet fuel competitive with fossil fuels. This would revitalize our logging industry and, along with solar and wind development, could eliminate the $18 billion Minnesotans annually spend on imported fossil fuels. That's equal to the entire 2013 Minnesota state budget.

Thankfully, we are now hearing constructive noises from both parties on carbon pricing. Let's keep encouraging them.

Eric EnbergDr. Eric Enberg practices family medicine in West Duluth and is the group leader of the Duluth Citizens' Climate Lobby ( MN_Duluth). He also is a member of the Duluth Energy Coalition.