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New Proposed Climate Change Bill in Washington Is Simpler and More Equitable

Happily, a new climate bill drafted by Sen. Maria Cantwell may change both the nature of the debate and its outcome.

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The economic collapse also may narrow the gap. The Energy Information Administration recently announced that total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions might be 8.5 percent lower by the end of 2009 than they were in 2005 and anticipates a very slow increase over the next two years. Thus, CLEAR's baseline of 2012 may well be significantly lower than Waxman-Markey's baseline of 2005.

The second substantive criticism of the Cantwell bill is that it establishes a safety-valve carbon price, something Waxman-Markey does not do. That is true.

CLEAR sets an initial minimum carbon price of $7 per ton and a maximum price of $21. But the Cantwell bill increases both the minimum and the maximum prices by about 10 percent per year after 2012, which means by 2020 they could be close to $14 at the low end and $42 per ton at the high end. The estimated price of carbon under Waxman-Markey in 2020 is $15-$20 per ton.

Some environmentalists offer a third objection. Cantwell's bill has no dedicated allowance for clean energy, while Waxman-Markey dedicates 10-15 percent for this purpose. Again, that is true.

CLEAR offers 25 percent of the auction proceeds for several purposes. Clean-energy advocates will have to fight with those wanting money to mitigate dislocation impacts from high-priced carbon, or for adaptation or mitigation strategies. I expect they would end up with about the same total revenue as under Waxman-Markey.

I hope we can collectively encourage Cantwell to introduce her bill, even without the co-sponsors she would like. Her bill represents a fundamentally different philosophical and strategic approach to fighting climate change: simple, transparent, equitable and, I would add, effective. That approach deserves to be part of the national debate on climate change.

David Morris is co-founder and vice president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis and is director of its New Rules project.