Obama's first stab at fighting climate change

Critics are already pointing out that the president's cap-and-trade plan might be aiming too low. But it's a start.

By Andrew Leonard

Published February 26, 2009 10:35PM (EST)

Just for fun, here's the section in President Obama's proposed budget calling for a cap-and-trade plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Administration is developing a comprehensive energy and climate change plan to invest in clean energy, end our addiction to oil, address the global climate crisis, and create new American jobs that cannot be outsourced. After enactment of the Budget, the Administration will work expeditiously with key stakeholders and the Congress to develop an economy-wide emissions reduction program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions approximately 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and approximately 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. This program will be implemented through a cap-and-trade system, a policy approach that dramatically reduced acid rain at much lower costs than the traditional government regulations and mandates of the past. Through a 100 percent auction to ensure that the biggest polluters do not enjoy windfall profits, this program will fund vital investments in a clean energy future totaling $150 billion over 10 years, starting in FY 2012. The balance of the auction revenues will be returned to the people, especially vulnerable families, communities, and businesses to help the transition to a clean energy economy... The Budget includes a $19 million increase for EPA work on a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission inventory and to work with affected industry sectors to report high-quality GHG emission data. This will also allow for work on the necessary steps toward implementing a comprehensive climate bill.

The administration calculates that revenues from auctioning off emission permits will kick in in 2012, and add up to $646 billion by 2019. Reuters is reporting that some analysts think this is a conservative estimate. Grist's David Roberts agrees, while also declaring that "sane" climate policy would mandate getting to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, at least.

But the great thing about cap-and-trade systems is that you can easily tweak them as you go, hiking prices for emissions allowances, or tightening the cap as needed. The critical thing is to get started.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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