Crowdsourcing as the new way to legislate?

By Matthew Wheeland - March 14, 2013

Democracy’s techno-savvy cousin, crowdsourcing, has reached the hallowed halls of Congress, thanks to California Rep. Henry Waxman and his Carbon Tax Bill. Hey, it worked for Veronica Mars fans so why not, you know, the planet?

So, for anyone who’s ever wished they could write the laws we live by, this is your shot. Of course, Waxman intends the call for action to be directed towards experts and leaders in the environmental realm but given that this is all happening online, we expect (hope) that the internet will once again act as a great equalizer.

The goals of the Carbon Tax Bill are three-fold: First, establish a carbon pollution fee for all types of greenhouse gases. Second, require major carbon polluters to obtain fee-based permits based on how much they pollute. And, finally, the bill would create a program to be jointly run and enforced by the Treasury and the EPA.

Here are the four main questions that Team Waxman is seeking guidance on:

  • What is the appropriate price per ton for polluters to pay? The draft contains alternative prices of $15, $25, and $35 per ton for discussion purposes.
  • How much should the price per ton increase on an annual basis? The draft contains a range of increases from 2% to 8% per year for discussion purposes.
  • What are the best ways to return the revenue to the American people? The discussion draft proposes putting the revenue toward the following goals, and solicits comments on how to best accomplish each: (1) mitigating energy costs for consumers, especially low-income consumers; (2) reducing the Federal deficit; (3) protecting jobs of workers at trade-vulnerable, energy intensive industries; (4) reducing the tax liability for individuals and businesses; and (5) investing in other activities to reduce carbon pollution and its effects.
  • How should the carbon fee program interact with state programs that address carbon pollution?

Who knows if this will work, but it’s cool to watch the attempt. There is a certain clout that comes from many people directing their attention to an important issue. We’ve seen what protests and marches can do, but with today’s technology, particularly social media, not only can our voices be heard – and loudly – but they also can spread fast so that the wisdom and actions of many can be understood and repeated. Crowdsourcing legislation is a great experiment to see just how impactful the collective voice can be.

Here’s another way of looking at crowdsourcing: At PURE, we see our work as a macro crowdsource experiment. We help homeowners across the country get solar panels to power their homes and feed electricity into the energy grid. When homeowners stand alone, they are just a drop in the proverbial renewable energy bucket. But as more and more people make the shift, and as more and more people tell their friends, they become a collective force. Pretty soon we could see what’s essentially a new type of power grid: instead of coal, nuclear, or natural gas power plants providing energy to our homes, it will be a collection of our individual homes providing power to the grid. Talk about crowdsourcing energy.

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