06/25/2013 01:47 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2013

The Moral and Economic Case for Climate Action

Today, President Obama's address on climate change brings welcome focus to the issue, outlining some concrete steps to be taken. We need more than talk and grand strategies if we are going to turn the tide on climate change and effect lasting reform. We need immediate action to combat many of the immediate dangers facing our planet, and we need to implement, not just outline, sound policies that will lower carbon emissions and protect and preserve the valuable resources that we have.

At the center of the president's speech was his commitment to limit the amount of carbon emitted by U.S. power plants, which are the biggest source of dangerous carbon pollution. Directing the Environmental Protection Agency to set power plant carbon pollution standards is the strongest possible action the President can take to address the impacts of climate change. Cutting carbon pollution from America's power plants by a quarter by 2020 would save Americans between $26 to $60 billion in reduced death and illnesses, and avoiding some of the consequences of climate change. Instituting the plan would cost less than $4 billion, most of which would be invested in new technologies and clean energy, putting Americans to work.

In addition, putting a price on carbon created by polluters will protect the environment, reduce the deficit, create jobs, and support the transition to clean energy sources and low-carbon transportation options. That's why earlier this year, I joined my colleagues, House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and Senator Brian Schatz in introducing a carbon price discussion draft.

The National Academies of Science released a study last week, the "Effects of U.S. Tax Policy on Greenhouse Gas Emissions," which made it clear that our current federal tax policies have little ability to control the emission of carbon. Yes, there are some minor changes that we can make, such as eliminating the subsidy for ethanol, that would actually reduce carbon emissions, but these small tweaks are not of sufficient scale to fix the problem. The study indicates that, if we were really committed to reducing carbon emissions and stop runaway climate change, we need to implement a carbon tax.

We can't afford to wait years to make changes; climate change is happening now. Last year, there were 3,527 monthly weather records broken for heat, rain, and snow in the U.S., according to information from the National Climatic Data Center. Anyone who was paying attention saw "once in a Century" weather events that seemed to happen every other week. Cleaning up after climate-driven disasters last year cost the average taxpayer over $1,100, for a total of nearly $100 billion. It is possible to mitigate the costs of these extreme weather events by improving FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program to better move people out of harm's way and make sure we don't allow them to rebuild time and time again in disaster prone areas.

President Obama is right that we have a moral obligation to act, yet the Republicans' plan remains the same tired "drill, baby, drill," which the American people know is a slogan, not a solution. This week, the Republican House leadership is once again voting to expand offshore drilling. My fellow Oregonian, Congressman Defazio, and I will introduce an amendment to protect the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and California while we fight for real climate change progress.

The American people are seeing the effects of climate change and expect their government to act. It would be a tragedy of epic proportions and an act of political malpractice to leave future generations a world more damaged and dangerous than we found it.