Once the pending climate legislation gets active in the Senate, Americans can look forward to another outpouring of concern about low-income families. What’s especially fun is that we’ll get to hear it from political players who aren’t usually too concerned about equity — from record-breaking profiteers like Exxon to the same elected officials who slash social services.

Now personally, I’d be delighted if Exxon really did take a genuine interest in poor consumers. And I’d be thrilled if the self-styled deficit hawks wrung their calloused hands with worry over energy bills and tight family budgets. But mostly—and sadly — it will be a ruse to defend the status quo energy economy and to obstruct meaningful action to reduce carbon emissions.

Which is a shame. Because there are some hugely important equity issues to sort out. Foremost among them, there’s the glaring inequity of failing to limit carbon emissions, an act that delivers punishing results to the world’s poorest as a recent article by Wagari Maathai makes painfully clear.

And there’s much the same dynamic domestically, as Aiko Schaefer points out in a post over at Grist:

Doing nothing on climate will only make things worse for the poor and people of color in this country.  The result of decades of inaction on this issue has already dramatically affected the lives of people: from more intense hurricanes that disproportionately hit people who cannot escape the rising tide, to the higher cost of food in a fossil fuel—driven economy, to heat waves that often trap the elderly in stifling apartments.  

Of course most of the objections to climate policy won’t center—indeed, won’t even mention—the dangers of failing to reduce carbon emissions. They will mostly center on the impacts of pricing carbon. But what are those financial impacts likely to be?

  • Here’s Aiko again:

    The House of Representatives has already taken the lead by designing climate policy that would not drive low-income households further into poverty.  The bill that passed the House established a key principle that low-income Americans as a group must be no worse off because of the higher prices associated with climate legislation.  On top of the relief all households—regardless of income—would receive on their utility bills, the House bill includes a climate rebate for families and individuals in the lowest income quintile that would compensate for increases in energy costs as well as other necessities.   

    Right. The Waxman-Markey bill contains solid built-in protections for low income families.

    Can we all try to remember this when the Senate debate heats up?

    Or if you’d prefer to take a more macroeconomic view of the subject, take a look at the latest analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. As Clark mentioned last week, Waxman-Markey’s net effect on the economy is negligible. And what’s more, the CBO finds thatthe poorest households actually come out ahead under the bill:

    According to CBO’s calculation, households in the lowest fifth of households when arrayed by income would see gains in purchasing power in both 2020 and 2050, because the compensation they would receive would exceed the costs they would bear.

    Exactly. So let’s all say it together one more time: “The Waxman-Markey bill contains solid built-in protections for low income families.” 

    Now doesn’t that feel nice?