At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing March 5, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu promised to work with Congress to implement President Obama’s cap-and-trade system to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the system, a cap on carbon emissions would be imposed on U.S. power plants, oil refineries and other industrial sites, which then could bid at auction on permits to exceed those limits. Plants which decrease emissions could sell their permits to other facilities that pollute more.
Passing Obama’s plan as he envisions is not likely to be a walk in the park.
New Mexico Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the energy panel, has indicated any Senate climate bill would not likely adhere to the strict auction plan for permits, which he says is too harsh on industry. Bingaman suggests that Congress develop a cap-and-trading emissions system with carbon allowances provided to polluters like cement factories and coal-burning power plants, along with permits that are sold.
Giving away allowances may prove counterproductive, however. In the European Union, the Emissions Trading Scheme, in addition to setting a cap that some say was too high, gave away a first round of emissions permits to polluters. This resulted in a transfer of wealth to the polluters, and eventually caused a glut of permits on the market.
President Obama’s budget proposal calls for significant revenue from cap-and-trade auctions.