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Bold New Senate Bill Addresses Climate Change

RP Siegel | Monday February 18th, 2013 | 4 Comments

IMG_0221_framed“Unless we take bold action to reverse climate change, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn’t the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientific community was sure would come?”

These are the words of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders throwing down the gauntlet on the U.S. government’s continued inaction on what many people consider to be the most pressing issue of our time. The statement was made on the occasion of a bill that Sanders introduced, along with California Senator Barbara Boxer: the Climate Protection Act of 2013.

The bill proposes a fee and dividend structure which is different from either a cap and trade plan, or a carbon tax.

Basically, the plan would tax carbon-emitting fossil fuels at their sources such as coal mines or oil wells with a fee of $20 per ton of CO2 equivalent. The price of the fee would increase by 5.6 percent per year for ten years. But unlike an ordinary tax, 60 percent of the money raised by this levy would be distributed to the American people, to offset the additional charges they would incur at the gas pump or on their utility bills. The rebates could run into hundreds of dollars per year per person.

The remaining 40 percent would be used to “fund historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.”

These funds will be provided to Weatherization Assistance Program, ARPA-E, the production tax credit and investment tax credit, manufacturing for clean energy technologies, worker training, and other programs needed for the transition to a clean energy future.

Of course, climate-deniers rushed to object. Heartland Institute’s Steve Stanek, said, “It would raise energy costs, forcing us to pay more for energy. Think of this as taking money out of our left pocket. Then the plan would refund some of the money back to us. Think of this as putting money in our right pocket. Shifting money from our left pocket to our right pocket does not leave us with more money.”

Of course, what people like Stanek are apparently incapable of getting, is the fact that the point of this bill is not about leaving us “with more money.” There are, in fact, people, intelligent people, who are interested in other things besides getting more money, though I’d be surprised if someone like this knows anyone like that personally.

The bill is expected to raise $1.2 trillion over the decade and more importantly, Mr. Stanek, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent relative to 2005 levels. Along the way, it could also help reduce the deficit, not only by providing some government revenue but more importantly, by providing stimulus funds to the fast growing, job-creating green segment of our economy.

The folks at 350.org took a more upbeat note. “There’s a new sense of momentum around climate change here in Washington, D.C.”

There is indeed a growing sentiment on the heels of President Obama’s State of the Union Address, where he came out forcefully, declaring that action is urgently needed.

The bill is not expected to pass the Senate, never mind the backward-looking House. But the fact that it contains some new and innovative thinking could help to break the logjam that currently exists in Congress. This could lead to other ideas that could potentially gain support.

Since the rebates are apparently based on the Alaska oil dividend, the funds will be distributed on a per person basis.

I think it’s a great step forward, though I would think it might be even better if the rebates were tied to behaviors that benefit the climate change issue. Something like the “feebates” proposed by Rocky Mountain Institute, which is a net zero incentive system that charges a fee for people driving cars with below-average fuel economy while rebating the money to those driving cars getting better mileage.

[Image credit: Frank Kehren: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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  • klem

    These people’s brains must be scrambled. The question I have is, why is this climate change program so complicated? If you want to increase the cost of carbon, simply ad a carbon tax on gasoline right at the pump. Simple. Instead they bring in this complicated, convoluted program of credits and dividends and rebates. What a freakin mess.

    When people see a program that is so complicated, they immediately smell a rat.

    • RPSiegel

      I think what makes it complicated is the politics. A bill can be a great bill but if it doesn’t pass, it will never become the law of the land. A carbon tax at the pump would be great, but does anyone think it can pass through Congress? Of course, you would also have to add it to the electric bill, too, to cover the coal emissions.

      • klem

        Right, so ad it to the electric bill too. Simple.

        The only reason this proposed carbon tax is so complicated is that they want the tax hidden from the people who are paying it. It’s smoke and mirrors.

        This sounds way too complex, it makes me suspicious, like someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sid.abma.1 Sid Abma

    Then there is natural gas. Natural gas can be consumed so much more efficiently.

    The residential market has condensing boilers, furnaces and water heaters operating in the mid 90% range.
    The EIA states that in 2011 commercial buildings, industry and power plants consumed approx. 17.5 Trillion cu.ft. of natural gas. How much of this energy was blown up chimneys all across the country as HOT exhaust into the atmosphere, 40% ~ 60%?
    The DOE states that for every 1 million Btu’s of energy recovered from these waste exhaust gases, and this recovered energy is utilized back in the building or facility, 118 lbs of CO2 will NOT be put into the atmosphere.
    What natural gas is not wasted today will be used another day.

    As you stated with electricity and gasoline and also with natural gas, those who find a way to use these products more efficiently need to be rewarded by paying less tax. Use more or waste it and pay more.