Alaska's two U.S. senators may soon have a chance to work on a bill that would benefit Alaskans, and many others, in a number of ways. The CLEAR Act is a rare opportunity for bi-partisan cooperation on legislation that will create jobs, reduce carbon emissions and put money into the pocket of every American. Perhaps most surprising of all, though the bill aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels nearly 20 percent by 2020, this approach is supported by many oil companies. The CLEAR Act represents a clear way forward, and although this legislation needs some changes, our senators now have a vehicle for strong energy policy they can approve and pass.
CLEAR stands for Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal, and its premise is simple, with a feature familiar to Alaskans -- benefits to every legal U.S. citizen. It's one of the significant differences between CLEAR and previous Cap and Trade plans. Unlike Cap and Trade, CLEAR addresses fossil fuels "upstream," at the point of sale. This means it doesn't create winners and losers, and it's much simpler to manage. Of course, taxing the big companies that deliver coal, oil and other fossil fuels means they will pass the cost on to their customers. That's where the benefits come in.
Currently CLEAR takes 75 percent of the tax revenues and divides it up equally in payments to every legal citizen. This means the average middle-class citizen will about break even, without changing habits at all. But what about people who reduce their carbon footprints? Someone who invests in a more fuel-efficient car, or uses public transportation or reduces home heating or electric bills is essentially putting money in his or her own pocket. Not only will they have reduced their up-front costs, but they'll also be receiving the CLEAR dividend -- about $1,000 for a family of four. We believe it would be more effective for citizens to receive a tax credit or rebate after stating they'd reduced their carbon footprint.
And what about the other 25 percent of revenues? It establishes a development and transition fund for renewable resources, which will create jobs and help battle the effects of global warming. We would support amendments to increase development of renewable energy -- particularly smart grids, solar and wind power and improved transportation options.
The beauty of the plan is it's economically and environmentally sound. Co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the bill fills all of 39 pages -- about 40 times smaller than similar bills. The concept is that taxes and higher fuel costs will encourage a slow transition to renewable energy sources, and that the transition will be eased by the dividend payments to families. As the transition takes place, new renewable research, development and implementation of U.S. industries will provide jobs, as well as cheaper fuel sources for American families.
Alaska stands to benefit from the move to renewables, as well. With more coastline than the entire Lower 48, rich geothermal sources and more wind resources than any other state, Alaska is poised to be a major player in the new energy model that must emerge sooner or later. That means jobs, revenue and cheap energy for future generations of Alaskans.
One of the defining issues of our generation is how to move to sustainable living and a future with a strong economy, affordable renewable energy, clean air and water, and a healthy environment.
While there is still much to be worked out, the CLEAR approach is a step in the right direction and one that enjoys bi-partisan and industry support, a rare combination to be sure. We strongly urge Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski to help improve the bill and then add their support to this legislation and help create a brighter, cleaner and more secure future for our state. We hope you'll contact them and ask them to help us build a clear path to sustainable living.
Jim Ayers has more than thirty years experience in a variety of policy issues in Alaska. He lives in Juneau and is currently vice president of Oceana.