This Earth Day, the fortieth anniversary of the first Earth Day, is the perfect time to recognize our need to reverse course and begin the transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of energy.
The most promising of the climate change legislation proposals being batted around the Senate isn’t the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill, but rather a more straightforward and equitable proposal put forth by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
Simply put, the CLEAR Act would place a cap on carbon emissions from major polluters beginning in 2012, progressively lowering the cap each year thereafter. The great majority of the revenue collected from these polluters would be returned to US citizens in the form of a monthly check. It’s what Peter Barnes (Climate Solutions: A Citizen’s Guide) calls “cap-and-dividend.” Cantwell calls it “cap-and-refund,” which would probably be easier to sell to the American people. President Obama calls it “an elegant solution.”
In an interview with Yale Environment 360, conducted by New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert, Senator Cantwell recently spoke about her proposal.
Yale Environment 360: Could you just briefly run through what you consider to be the major elements of the legislation?
Maria Cantwell: Well, you want something, first of all, that the American people can understand. They know intuitively that we need to get off of carbon and onto clean energy. That’s what you see in all sorts of surveys of the American people. And they intuitively know that it will create green jobs. What they want to know is, what does the transition look like? And how do you minimize the economic impact?
e360: Could you just a talk a little about what exactly the bill will do?
Cantwell: We try to achieve that transition period with the least impact to the economy as possible and keep consumers whole. So it’s simple, in the sense that it says, let’s start with a gradual reduction of carbon at 0.25 percent a year, and have a gradual increase in that level of reduction every year — but a very predictable level. But do so by having something that doesn’t rely on trading platforms and allowances and giveaways that have been the downturn or the implosion of the U.S. economy of late. But instead have those who are responsible for putting carbon into the atmosphere actually have to come and purchase a permit to continue to do so, knowing that they are going to have to meet these reductions. So it sets a process of getting off of carbon by meeting these goals and [protects] consumers with a rebate check from the auction.
e360: So we auction at the first moment where you have a carbon emitter?
Cantwell: About 2,000 or 3,000 [sources that] are putting fossil fuels into the economy. It’s very upstream. A lot of the proposals have been downstream, impacting lots of different industries, impacting lots of different people. And I think that’s what we have seen Europe do, and we can learn from Europe. We don’t have to replicate the mistakes they’ve already made.