The notion of a huge public trust begins with two simple ideas that have the potential to cut the Gordian knot on energy policy.
The first is that the atmosphere belongs to everyone. If you want to dump in it with your car or business, you have to pay the owners for the privilege, just as you would pay for the right to dump waste on someone’s private property. The owner is us. This idea of the sky as a public “commons” is already well established in proposals for a “cap-and-trade” system of pollution permits and credits like those used in Europe for carbon and in the United States to dramatically reduce the problem of acid rain.
The second idea is the one you probably haven’t heard about until now. The reason a gas tax or any other carbon tax is political poison is that people don’t trust the government to spent their money wisely. (Sen. Chris Dodd, for instance, has proposed that the proceeds from a carbon tax be dedicated to fund alternative energy sources. Nice idea, and give him credit for guts not shown by the other presidential candidates. But it won’t fly.) So instead of “taxes,” think “charges” or “assessments.” And instead of “government spending” or “tax breaks,” think “dividend checks” every month, perhaps through debit cards. For you. For everyone. Think free money.