By Jonathan Teller-Elsberg, Associate Editor
From the Community Blogs 
Senators Cantwell and Collins have introduced a cap-and-dividend bill into the Senate, S. 2877, “The CLEAR Act” where “CLEAR” stands for “The Carbon Limits and Energy for American Renewal Act.” You can read the bill and explanatory info at Cantwell’s site , and even download a PDF of Peter Barnes’ book Climate Solutions. (Which I highly recommend.) (The full name of the bill is “A bill to direct the Secretary of the Treasury to establish a program to regulate the entry of fossil carbon into commerce in the United States to promote clean energy jobs and economic growth and avoid dangerous interference with the climate of the Earth, and for other purposes.” That’s an example of legislative language bloat. When someone yalps, “my goodness, the bill is 1,000 pages looooonnnnngggg!” just remember how wordy legislative jargon is.)
This bill is good, really about as close to perfect as one can hope for from a Congress made up of politicians, at least as currently drafted. (Future amendments may well muck it up.) All emissions permits are auctioned—no giveaways to polluters. Three-quarters of auction revenues are paid out as monthly dividends on an equal per-person basis to all (legal) residents of the US. Approximately 80 percent of all Americans will receive as much or more money from these dividends as they will have to spend to cover the increase in energy costs. The less energy you use, the more you will be sitting pretty. The other 20 percent of revenues are to be used to pay for energy efficiency improvements, reductions in emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases (which are not part of the cap in this bill, a minor flaw), and transition programs for regions of the country where fossil fuel industries predominate. And finally, no offsets. That’s massively important and a very, very good thing.
Now some of you might have seen the recent video from the creators of The Story of Stuff, the new one being The Story of Cap-and-Trade . It’s a cool video that does a good job of explaining how cap-and-trade programs can go awry. But what it totally fails to do is explain how cap-and-trade can work when designed sensibly—the CLEAR Act is the sensible design, not least because it pursues the cap-and-dividend version that protects people from rising energy costs even as it promotes movement to greater efficiency and conservation. Leonard (the host of the video) trashes cap-and-trade but also advocates for a generic cap on carbon emissions. But, um, she doesn’t say anything about how that cap should be implemented and how emitters will be held to the cap. If you do set a cap on emissions (which you must do!), you have to distribute the limited emissions permits one way or another. What’s Leonard’s proposal? She doesn’t say.
Leonard explains that the first big problem with cap-and-trade are that, under some versions, emission permits are given away for free—but the CLEAR Act gives none away, all are issued through action. The second big problem she identifies is allowing “offsets” to sell for extra emission permits—but the CLEAR Act does not allow for offsets. Her third big problem is that a bad carbon law will distract citizens, making us think that the problem is being solved when it isn’t. Well, if the CLEAR Act is passed as written, I’m sure lots of people will turn their attention to other issues, but that won’t be because the law is no good, only because, well, the problem actually would be addressed in a sensible way.
The biggest problem that might actually exist with the CLEAR Act is that its targets aren’t tough enough. It aims to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent in 2050 relative to 2005 levels. That might not cut it, but frankly, as optimistic as I can sometimes force myself to be, it is just plain impossible that any democratic government will set a target tougher than that.
So, in short, get on the horn! Tell you senators to cosponsor the CLEAR Act. Then call them again and again and again until they do. Call your rep and tell them to cosponsor similar (but not quite as good as it includes offsets and allows polluters to bank and borrow permits from one year to the next*) legislation in the House, H.R. 1862, “The Cap and Dividend Act of 2009.” Spread the word. These are the bills we need and we probably won’t get another decent chance to get them. The alternatives will be a lot suckier. Not surprisingly, the alternatives currently have a lot more support. You can help change that.
* So while urging your rep to cosponsor this, also urge them to amend it and fix those flaws.
[Update: I’ve just discovered Peter Barnes’ post on the topic. Check it out .]
[Also, comments have started on the original posting, here . So consider commenting there, rather than here, if you feel like commenting at all. Thanks, Jonathan.]