SolveClimate had the luck to bump into New York Congressman Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, as he arrived by train in Washington, D.C., on Monday, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions about climate legislation as we walked along the platform.
It was the day before President Obama addressed the joint session of Congress, asking for a cap on carbon emissions. When we asked Rangel how his committee would respond to climate law, here's what he said:
Whether it's cap and trade or a carbon tax, we're there.
On the question of where the money from carbon revenues should go, he voiced concern about protecting consumers from rising energy prices that a cap on carbon would bring:
We've got to provide a cushion. No question about it.
Watch the video. It will make you feel like you're walking the platform at Union Station alongside the powerful Congressman as he pulls his own bag behind him. Unfortunately, we ran out of platform and the drive-by interview was over, but he gave us a peek into his intentions for influencing the shape and scope of climate law.
At issue is hundreds of billions of dollars of new revenues, so it should be no surprise that Rangel has his antenna up as chairman of Ways and Means -- that's why he said, "We're there." Since then, he has announced that his committee would be marking up a climate bill of its own before Memorial Day.
On Rangel's committee is Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is floating a "cap and dividend" climate bill that aims to recycle 90% of the carbon revenues back to consumers. That's a cushion alright, no question about it.
Republican lawmakers are hoping that this move puts Rangel on a collision course with Rep. Henry Waxman, whose Energy and Commerce Committee is working to move its own climate bill by Memorial Day. Climatewire reports:
"The more I get the Democrats fighting each other on whatever, I'm happy," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a skeptic on climate science and the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "I hope Rangel and Waxman get into a huge fight over this. I'll provide the gloves."
Clearly Barton didn't get the memo about bipartisanship.
President Obama has signaled that he believes a large chunk of the carbon revenues should go back to consumers; the Democrats in the House are now working out just how much, while all seem to be agreement that 100% of the carbon permits will be auctioned. That means no free lunch for polluters.
The other major issue that needs resolution, besides the fate of the carbon revenues, is where to place the cap on carbon. Van Hollen is in favor of an "upstream cap" -- a simple mechanism for collecting fees at the point where carbon enters the economy. It would require monitoring about 2000 companies -- oil, coal and gas companies that bring fossil fuel to the market. Traditional cap and trade schemes have been designed around the notion of capping carbon where it is burned -- requiring a complex system to monitor and regulate hundreds of thousands of sources of emissions.
The following is the text of a "Dear Colleague" letter Rep. Van Hollen circulated this week in Congress:
I have been - and will continue to be - a supporter of leading congressional efforts to address the challenge of global climate change. The science is clear: Heat-trapping emissions that have been accumulating in our atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution are increasing global temperatures - causing glaciers to melt, sea levels to rise, oceans to acidify and weather events to intensify. Moreover, and more troubling, recent observations published since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 Fourth Assessment Report indicate climate impacts occurring at a greater pace and to a greater degree than the IPCC's models originally predicted. Additionally, there is no step more important to building out our clean energy future than providing markets with a strong price signal to accelerate the development and deployment of homegrown renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. With President Obama in the White House, the time for Congress to act is now.
Climate science can be complicated. But our legislative solution to climate change need not be. At its core, any successful climate change bill must deliver scientifically based emissions reductions while enjoying broad popular support from the American people - and it must continue to do both for at least forty years.
In that regard, I believe there is one approach that offers the best chance to get the job done: Cap and Dividend.
The strength of Cap and Dividend lies in its simplicity, transparency and durability: Cap carbon emissions, auction carbon permits, require first sellers of fossil fuels to annually surrender permits equivalent to the carbon content of the fuel they sell, and distribute auction proceeds in the form of dividends to everyone with a Social Security number.
Towards that end, I will soon be introducing The Cap and Dividend Act of 2009, which will:
• Cap carbon emissions in 2012 and establish a scientifically driven glide path to a minimum 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050;
• Auction 100% of carbon permits;
• Require first sellers of fossil fuels (i.e. oil, coal and natural gas) to surrender permits equivalent to the carbon content of the fuel they sell into the U.S. market each year; and
• Distribute at least 90% of total auction proceeds in the form of dividends to every American with a Social Security number.
Cap and Dividend has attracted a growing chorus of support from news organizations like Newsweek and The Washington Post, as well as diverse political voices ranging from former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich to Republican Tennessee Senator Bob Corker.
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN
Member of Congress