Dozens of D.C. teachers and students joined climate advocates at the John H. Wilson Building in a rally to urge the D.C. Council to introduce strong carbon-fee and rebate policy on Friday.
Middle school students spoke in favor of the policy alongside members of Put a Price on It, D.C. — a coalition of 70 local organization and businesses advocating for the policy change.
The group of students and teachers held signs in the shape of giant clocks that read “climate action: the time is now.”
“My generation will be disproportionately and negatively affected by climate change, and the generations to could inherit a broken world,” said Riley Place, a 17-year-old student at St. John’s High School. “On behalf of the young people of Washington, D.C., I demand that we begin solving climate change now, before it truly is too late.”
In recent months, climate activists have shifted their focus to city and state policy in the face of a seemingly unresponsive president and Congress. But, so far, no states have passed a carbon fee.
Recently, there also has been a wave of youth activism. In the months following a mass shooting at a Florida school in February, young people led a movement for stricter gun control legislation which eventually resulted with hundreds of thousands of student-demonstrators marching across the nation in March.
A group of teenagers from Washington state are also set to be heard by federal courts later this year as part of their lawsuit against the Trump administration for failing to act on climate change.
“We must hold polluters accountable for their carbon emissions by putting a price on carbon,” said Riley, who the president of one of the only political action committees in America that is student-run and focuses on youth issues.
The group’s idea to reduce carbon emission in the District—a tax on large producers of carbon and return most of the proceeds to residents in the form of a rebate.
The coalition kicked off its campaign in October on the steps of the Wilson building with a large cardboard check from “Big Polluters” to the “to the average D.C. family of four” in the amount of $500.
The tax would apply to natural gas and oil consumed in the District. It would also include carbon-intensive electricity and emissions linked to transportation with the exemption of public transportation. Revenue would then be invested back into the community through rebates to all D.C. residents, green-energy projects and tax reductions for local businesses.
With this plan, advocates said the carbon-fee-and-rebate program would help reduce global warming in District while also boosting business and increasing family income.
Residents in the District would face higher electric bills and pay more for gas, but supporters said the average resident will get back $2 for every extra dollar they had to spend. Advocates also said the tax could reduce carbon emissions by a quarter.
“Climate change is a human rights issue,” said Claire Cook, an organizer a ONE D.C. who works to create and preserve racial and economic equity in the District. “In D.C., longtime residents, working-class families and Black and Latino people bear the brunt of environmental issues.”
Students agreed that the effects of climate change are already visible.
“I’ve barely had recess because of climate change,” said D’Andre Person, a seventh-grade student one the Washington Latin Great Debaters Policy debate team. “It was snowing in spring, and it didn’t even snow a lot in December, as some of those days have been warmer than the days in spring.”
In October, Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who heads the Council’s committee on transportation and the environment, told a crowd of Ward 3 Democrats that the proposed carbon fee policy was a “fabulous concept” that will “have to have Council support and the mayor’s support — and [it] will.”
Cheh has indicated that she will introduce the proposed legislation on June 5.
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) has also stepped up to support the carbon fee proposal.
“I look forward to continuing to be a part of the negotiations that Council member Cheh is leading to move us to toward introducing a bill that will deliver on the promise and continue the District’s leadership in sustainability and resiliency,” said Allen, who recently introduced legislation to allow 16-year-old residents in the District to vote as a response to student activism.
If the legislation is passed, D.C. would become one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to tax carbon emissions.