Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders

Joshua Lopez / Project Survival MediaBoxer and Sanders introduce the Climate Protection Act of 2013.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) unveiled ambitious climate and energy legislation on Thursday. In our current sclerotic political environment, it has pretty much zero chance of passing in the Senate and negative chance of passing in the House. But many climate activists like it, and many climate deniers hate it, and the San Francisco Chronicle calls it “radical,” so let’s find out what all the fuss is about.

Here’s a quick summary of the Climate Protection Act of 2013 from Sanders’ office: “Under the legislation, a fee on carbon pollution emissions would fund historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. The proposal also would provide rebates to consumers to offset any efforts by oil, coal or gas companies to raise prices.”

It’s what green wonks call a “fee and dividend” bill. The Chronicle describes it as a “variant on a carbon tax”:

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It would impose a fee on carbon emissions at their source, such as coal mines, raising the price of fossil fuel energy.

But instead of giving the proceeds to the government, three-fifths of the money would be refunded to U.S. residents.

Such rebates could run into hundreds of dollars. The idea is modeled loosely on Alaska’s “permanent fund” that distributes royalties from the state’s oil and gas industry to every Alaskan resident. …

The Sanders-Boxer bill would impose a $20 per ton tax on carbon or methane equivalent, rising 5.6 percent each year for 10 years, on the nation’s [2,869] largest fossil fuel producers. Imported fossil fuels from countries that do not impose a similar tax would also pay. …

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The tax would raise an estimated $1.2 trillion over a decade and reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent from 2005 levels. Three-fifths of the tax would be rebated to “every legal U.S. resident,” which might make it more politically feasible than if it went to the government.

The rest of the money would go to incentives for clean energy and research.

A version of the “fee and dividend” idea is a favorite of NASA climate scientist James Hansen and climate activist Bill McKibben, founder of

More from The Hill:

The bill also would require the gas drilling industry to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

And still more, from Sanders’ two-page summary, on the bill’s aims:

  • Weatherizing 1 million homes per year …;
  • Tripling the budget for ARPA-E breakthrough energy research and development;
  • Creating a Sustainable Technologies Finance Program that would, through public-private partnerships, leverage $500 billion for investments in wind, solar, geothermal, advanced biomass and biofuels, ocean and tidal energy, hydropower, advanced transportation projects, and energy efficiency technologies;
  • Investing in domestic manufacturing and energy-intensive industries to promote energy efficiency and mitigate impacts of a carbon price; and
  • Funding $1 billion a year in worker training and transition programs to help move workers into jobs in the clean energy economy.

If you want still still more, here’s full text of the bill [PDF], and a companion bill [PDF] that would eliminate some subsidies for fossil-fuel companies.

Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, says she intends to move the legislation through her committee and to the Senate floor by this summer. Many greens will be rallying behind her, but how many fellow senators will? We’ll keep you posted …

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