Cap and Dividend – the Greatest Idea for Fighting Climate Change that Nobody’s Heard of

Congressman Chris Van Hollen has a well-earned reputation of being one of the smartest people in DC. His bill to dramatically cut the greenhouse gases that cause global warming is just the latest exhibit to support this contention. Along with the Mike Tidwell at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN)  and Peter Barnes, Mr. Van Hollen has crafted a piece of legislation that solves the puzzle of fighting climate change while not harming the economy, and particularly lower to middle income people. The bill is only 28 pages (unlike the cap and trade bill of years past, which was over 1,000 pages) and puts forth a very simple proposition. The companies that create pollution upstream have to pay for permits to the U.S. government, which then takes 100% of that money and writes checks to every American adult. The framework would stay in place until we reach an 80% reduction in emissions, though that can be adjusted based on the latest science.

The beauty of the bill is its simplicity. It does not require a massive trading system, or thousands of pages of new regulations on millions of businesses. It simply requires the big guys upstream (think Exxon-Mobil) to pay, and then has the American people collect. A study by U-Mass Economics Professor James Boyce found that 80% of American households would come out ahead financially. That means, in effect, a “tax cut” for most Americans. And who are the 20% that might not come out ahead? The most affluent, who will easily have the ability to reduce their energy use and thus come out ahead as well.

So, what’s the problem?

Nobody outside of green circles and the Beltway will know a thing about this bill. It will not be brought up in the House, and there’s no Senate version. How can the American people embrace an idea they never hear about?

So, the #1 priority for climate groups right now should be to get the word out. We’ve got such a great concept that we should welcome debate on it in the public forum. To that end, here’s my idea:

Create a series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates in every Congressional district in the country. Identify our team of experts who will represent our side, and invite a rep from the other side. There have to be clear rules to keep the debate civil and organized. No screaming sessions. Invite local groups, the local media, and local officials. This will spark a lot of excitement among activists, will get the word out to the average American, and be a great organizing tool for advocacy. Unlike television or other media based ads, you can debate the points the other side brings up, and when we win these debates, people will not doubt the credibility of our claims. I volunteer for the Maryland 8th district. Let’s get it going!