The CLEAR Act, from Cantwell & Collins, Get Its Close-up
One striking thing about the CLEAR Act formulated by senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) is its lack of heft: It’s 39 pages. Another is that it would (in theory) pay a family of four an estimated $1,100 per year in dividends, to offset any extra costs in clean energy prices.
Senators can really appreciate a climate change bill that comes in under 1,000 pages (Waxman-Markey weighs in at 1,428, Kerry-Lieberman at 987), and the person-in-the-street tends to perk up at the idea of getting a check for $1,100. Who cares what it’s for! (Cantwell and Collins call it a “cap-and-dividend” bill, and say it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, while driving the free market to seek out and implement clean energy options.)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democratic Caucus have made the CLEAR Act an object of keen interest, recently, and Cantwell has been holding audiences all over Capitol Hill (coming up, the White House).
When the Act made its debut at the end of last year, even wonks were bowled over by its simplicity; local public policy-pushers Sightline admitted that the only real problem they had was that it seemed too good to be true. Alan Durning wanted a lot more detail on how exactly this cap-and-dividend plan would work. (Durning was also divided on Waxman-Markey.) Grist said this could be the bill that puts climate change back on the table.
By February, the CLEAR Act had become the darling of the bills under review, though Sightline’s Eric de Place was still holding firm (on Grist) on spelling things out: “Getting the details right matters hugely, and the current version of CLEAR is simply too short on the nitty-gritty to assuage our concerns.”
Sightline was hoping Cantwell would revise the Act in the intervening months, but Cantwell has stuck to her brevity guns, which leaves Sightline still holding onto ACES, and leaning toward Kerry-Lieberman. Says de Place:
We’re pulling for a comprehensive and effective carbon policy. The flagship bills have been ACES (passed the House last summer) and Kerry-Lieberman (now floating around the Senate). Both have flaws, but both would be huge game-changers.
We like the CLEAR Act in many respects, but we think it has a few significant (fixable) problems. Mainly, we think it’s big selling point, its brevity and alleged simplicity, is actually its Achilles’ Heel. It’s hard to make a judgment about it, when big portions of its carbon reductions are just sketched rather than explain and legislated in detail.