Friday, July 16, 2010

A CLEAR-Headed Idea for Reducing Emissions

Two U.S. Senators have proposed what looks like a brilliant framework for not only reducing carbon air pollution, but putting some money directly into our pockets, and doing it with what sounds like a refreshingly simple system.

The 4 Sisters smokestacks go down
(Are you kidding me? Can I be forgiven for fearing, in these nutty times, that it's too good to be true? Well, I just read this morning that the White House and Senate allies decided this week, "to press ahead with a scaled-back energy bill," and they didn't mention this one, so it might turn out to be. Nevertheless:)

In December, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal (CLEAR) Act. They wrote,
"Our concept is simple: Instead of cap-and-trade, our approach is 'cap-and-dividend,' with the dividends going where they belong: into the pockets of hardworking Americans."

"The legislation would set up a mechanism for selling "carbon shares" to the few thousand fossil fuel producers and importers through monthly auctions. Seventy-five percent of the auction revenue would be returned to every citizen and legal resident of the United States through equally divided rebate checks -- averaging $1,100 for a family of four each year. The remaining 25 percent would finance clean-energy research and development…" and more.
This would be done "without disrupting the economy, using a gradually declining 'cap.' The concept is to gradually accelerate emission reductions," aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020, and 83% by 2050.
Quotes from "A cap-and-dividend way to a cleaner nation and more jobs," Cantwell and Collins' Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post, Friday, 6/18/10.
There are literally a host of good ideas contained in this one bill, beyond the obvious lure of a check from the guv'mint, for a change: transfer money directly from those who profit from polluting to those who suffer from it the most. Set a predictable price for carbon that everyone can plan on, one that's market-driven within set limits, and all with a minimum of government involvement since an independent trust would be set up to handle the auction. (A few nods to the Republican side of the aisle, there — bully! Let's get everybody on board.)

And how about these perks? "We create a level playing field instead of providing pollution credits to whichever entities have the best lobbyists," the Senators write. "The act cuts out Wall Street speculators and price manipulators. It minimizes destructive price volatility."

And, perhaps most radically of all, the actual bill is only 39 pages long! That means all those members of Congress will be able to actually have a concept of what's in there, for a change. (Candid Representatives have admitted there's no way you can know all the provisions in your common 2,000-page bill.) Between the few pages and the mechanism proposed, it also means that special interests wouldn't have anywhere in the system to hide big payouts to themselves.

The idea is that now that companies will have to pay for the carbon they allow into the atmosphere (that we're all breathing, and in effect swimming in together), they will be economically incented to reduce that output. At long last they'll find the will and the way to do what they'd put off for as long as possible, simply due to the cost. Polluting did not figure into their bottom line — aside from compliance costs during earlier eras when the EPA was actually on the job. Now it would.

By golly, they even made a cute little video for YouTube to explain it:

"How the CLEAR Act Works" (PDF, from

First saw it here:
"Double Dividend: Make Money by Saving Nature"
George Lakoff, Huffington Post
Photo from Wikipedia —
the controlled demolition of four giant coal smokestacks, known locally as the "four sisters," in a Toronto suburb (2006). The plant was labelled a heavy polluter by the Ontario government; and we who live downwind, to the east, thank you.

VIDEO: Tim-berrrr! (53 sec., no sound)

Related, here:
Posts tagged "Green tech"

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