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Van Hollen Throws His Cap in Climate Ring

Climate bills are blooming like cherry blossoms in Washington.  Earlier this week, two senior Democrats unveiled their long-awaited plan for capping climate-warming emissions from burning fossil fuels.  The bill put in by California Rep. Henry Waxman and Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey is more ambitious in some respects than the "cap and trade" scheme being pushed by President Barack Obama.

Now comes another leading Democrat, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, with yet another idea on what to do about climate, and particularly with all the money the government might raise by putting a price on carbon.

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Van Hollen, who represents Montgomery County, has proposed a "cap and dividend" scheme.  It's noteworthy beause he's assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and no slouch on energy and environmental issues, as co-chair of a House renewable energy caucus.

His bill would aim for reducing carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020 and 85 percent by 2050.  The emission targets vary slightly from the others, but where Van Hollen's plan is different is that he would have the government give back to consumers the millions and billions raised by auctioning off credits or rights to emit limited quantities of greenhouse gases.

Under Obama's plan, roughly two thirds of the money raised through those carbon auctions would be returned in tax breaks.   But Van Hollen's proposing to give all of it back, returning "100% of auction proceeds in the form of a monthly Consumer Dividend to every lawful resident of the United States with a valid Social Security number," according to a press release put out by his office.

Van Hollen, in a telephone chat recently, downplayed the differences between his bill and the others, including the President's.

"The overriding objective here is to reduce carbon emissions and move us towards a clean economy," he said. "There are lots of ways to get there."

Still, the virtue of his plan, he said, was its proposal to auction carbon credits to producers of coal, oil and gas, rather than trying to regulate individual industries or factories.  The government's proceeds from such auctions could help to soften the impact on consumers as the shrinking carbon cap raises energy prices, he explained.  He said his plan offers a simpler, more direct repayment scheme than other proposals.

"Everybody's going to get a certain amount back in their pockets,'' Van Hollen said. "That's the dividend."

It's unknown yet if Van Hollen's plan will go down any better with skeptics who contend "cap and trade" will bankrupt the nation.   But some environmentalists, at least, like it.

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"No other carbon cap proposal does as much to help American families, our economy, and our planet," said Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

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