This guest post was submitted by James K. Boyce, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has been a proponent of a “cap-and-dividend” policy to curb global warming while protecting the incomes of American families.
Last Friday, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) unveiled the CLEAR (Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal) Act, which could break the impasse in the debate over U.S. policy on climate change (McClatchy coverage is here.)
CLEAR has won a favorable reception from a broad swath of the political spectrum, ranging from ExxonMobil to Friends of the Earth. The scroll of supportive statements on Cantwell’s website includes praise from the AARP, the American Enterprise Institute, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Alaska’s Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, and MoveOn.org.
CLEAR is a “100-75-25-0” policy:
- 100% of the permits to bring fossil carbon into the U.S. economy will be auctioned from day one – there are no permit giveaways.
- 75% of the auction revenue is returned directly to the public as equal per person dividends.
- 25% of the auction revenue is devoted to investments in energy efficiency, clean energy, adaptation to climate change, and assistance for sectors hurt by the transition from the fossil-fueled economy.
- Zero offsets are allowed: polluters cannot avoid curbing use of fossil fuels by paying someone else to ostensibly clean up after them.
The Cantwell-Collins bill also strictly limits the buying and selling of permits to prevent carbon market speculation and profiteering.
In all these respects, the 39-page CLEAR Act differs markedly from the Waxman-Markey (ACES) bill that passed the House in June, whose cap-and-trade provisions (Title III) alone run to 410 pages. Waxman-Markey initially gives away 85% of the permits. Dividends to the public eventually would grow to about half of the permit value pie, but not until the 2030s. The House bill’s offset provisions would turn the emissions cap into a sieve, and have stoked worries about creating a “subprime carbon market” (see and Annie Leonard’s animated primer). We need to cap carbon, but we do not need to cap-and-trade or, especially, cap-and-give-away. Instead, we should cap-and-dividend.
The New York Times reported on the on the legislative sausage-making that went into Waxman-Markey. The redolent process, lubricated by special favors to special interests, has stalled since June with legislative arteriosclerosis; its backers now hope that passage can be cleared by implanting stents to boost nuclear power and transform America into “the Saudi Arabia of clean coal.”
The road to a Senate-led compromise is open: CLEAR could replace Title III of the House bill, while keeping the other titles that set forth non-price policies to promote energy efficiency and clean energy. The resulting comprehensive climate policy could have a real chance of becoming the law of the land – and the air – in the year ahead.
By James Boyce