Who Owns The Sky?
We All Do -- And Polluters Should Pay Us For Dumping There
by Ann Hancock
    The "Sky Trust" is a free-market approach to reducing air pollution
that has an interesting dividend: annual payments to all U.S. citizens.
Such 'sky rent' could put a $1,000 check in your pocket each year.

Who Owns The Sky?
We All Do -- And Polluters Should Pay Us For Dumping There

Ann Hancock is a sustainability educator who lives in Sonoma County, 
north of San Francisco.

Steven Rosenfeld produced this piece.

The White House doesn't need Enron to show its true loyalties on 
energy. Whatever's best for energy companies' profits suits their 
definition of public policy. How else to explain the recent Bush 
proposal rolling back clean air standards by 30 years? Or its 
announcement that new or expanding power plants needn't install the 
latest anti-air pollution devices? It's payback time for Bush's 
energy friends and funders, plain and simple.

Such favoritism is bad from an environmental perspective. It's also 
bad economics. But it is possible to reduce air pollution using the 
marketplace. It is possible for private companies to follow their 
profit-making instincts and still make money while reducing global 
warming emissions. How is that, you might ask? It's all laid out in a 
brilliant book by Peter Barnes titled Who Owns The Sky, describing an 
idea called the Sky Trust.

Who owns the sky? The answer is obvious. It's everybody. In public 
policy terms, it's called "public trust," based on a legal doctrine 
that declares that the state holds certain resources in trust for its 
citizens -- like national parks. With this as a starting point, 
Barnes, the founder of Working Assets, suggests that we consider 
carbon emissions just like any other commodity. Polluters such as 
power plants would pay to discharge into the sky, similar to the 
effective system now used to limit U.S. sulfur emissions. Polluters 
could use alternative technologies and pay less, or not at all. And 
where would the money go that's been collected? Into an account 
that's returned to citizens, the Sky Trust.

This notion is not far-fetched. In Alaska, where oil companies have 
been drilling on state and federal lands -- public lands -- a similar 
dividend accrues to residents. Last year the Alaska Permanent Fund 
paid citizens about $2,000 each. What Alaskans do with oil, Americans 
can do with sky. Annual sky rent could equal about $386 billion, 
according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, enough for 
each American to receive a $1,000 check every year.

Congressional analysts like the Sky Trust idea, too. The 
Congressional Budget Office studied various approaches for reducing 
greenhouse gases, and concluded that the Sky Trust's cap-and-trade 
approach is the best. Every year Congress would establish a limit on 
the amount of allowable greenhouse gas, and the Sky Trust would 
auction off the rights to pollute. As the allowable emissions were 
gradually reduced, the price would go up, and so would each 
American's annual dividend.

And just in case anyone needs reminding, news about climate change is 
very troubling. Last decade was the warmest on record. Sea levels 
rose about 8 to 12 inches during the last century, recently forcing 
thousands of residents of Tuvalu, a tiny spot in the Pacific Ocean, 
to leave their island home. To avert the worst of global warming, 
predominant scientific opinion says that we must reduce greenhouse 
gas emissions worldwide by at least 60 percent. Compare this figure 
with the 5.2 percent cut called for in the Kyoto Treaty signed two 
months ago by 180 nations, every major nation except the United 
States. Clearly, a new approach is badly needed.

Barnes is setting up a turnkey Sky Trust complete with board of 
directors, ready for the public, Congress, and the President to 
implement. All Congress must do is pass a law creating the Sky Trust.

America would curb its fossil fuel appetite. Those who use the most 
would pay, and those who use the least would be rewarded. Our 
children's children would inherit a habitable Earth. The Sky Trust 
reflects American capitalism at its finest.

To learn more, and to get a free, non-transferable Certificate of 
Ownership representing your share of sky, visit www.skyowners.org.

Published: Jan 14 2002

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