Last week in an address to the Business Roundtable (a trade association for CEOs), President Obama seemed to back away (See transcript, below) from his recent budget proposal to auction 100% of the permits in a cap-and-trade system.
Carbon Control News reported this morning that Senate budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) stated that a 100% auction system is not politically doable, a sentiment also held by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).
Text of President Obama’s Remarks on Cap-and-Trade to the Business Roundtable (March 12, 2009)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me start by saying this. I said during the campaign we were looking at a hundred percent auction. We are not going to be able to move this in an effective way without partnership with the business community. But we just — we can’t get it done. And for businesses like yours that are committed to the concept and the idea, we’re going to work to make sure that it works for you.
Now, the experience of a cap and trade system thus far is that if you’re giving away carbon permits for free, then basically you’re not really pricing the thing and it doesn’t work, or people can game the system in so many ways that it’s not creating the incentive structures that we’re looking for. The flip side is, you’re right, if it’s so onerous that people can’t meet it, then it defeats the purpose — and politically we can’t get it done anyway.
So we’re going to have to find a structure that arrives at that right balance. We want to create a price structure. Keep in mind that the reason that I’m interested in a cap and trade approach is precisely because I think the market makes decisions about these technologies better than we do. You know, for those who are concerned about some heavy-handed command and control regulations coming down the pike, cap and trade is designed to say, you know what, here’s a target, here’s a price, you guys go figure it out and if you can make money on it, all the better.
So that’s the — that’s our goal. That’s what we want. And how that pricing mechanism works most effectively to actually influence incentives, but also be sufficiently realistic that industries are thriving as opposed to groaning under the weight of it, I think is going to be the trick. I’m confident that we can do it. We’ve done it before.
I mean, keep in mind that when — I’m trying to remember, this was back in the ’70s or early ’80s — I’m getting old enough now where I can’t remember — but, you know, the issue of acid rain was around. Everybody thought all your trees were going to be dying; you couldn’t make any paper. And we put in an auction system and a trading mechanism and, lo and behold, American ingenuity and American entrepreneurship and inventiveness created options that ended up being much cheaper than anybody had imagined — much cheaper than anybody had imagined.
Now, in the meantime, I just — I was talking to some members of Congress just yesterday, you know, who were concerned about this, because I’m sure they’re hearing from industries and, you know, what does this mean economically, et cetera. I just want to point out, you know, anybody who has been to Las Vegas recently and looked at Lake Mead; or who is familiar with what’s happening in agriculture in California right now; or go down to Atlanta, which may not have any water soon, because of what’s happening in terms of changing weather patterns; or talk to Kevin Rudd in Australia — that’s going to cost us money too. It’s just not — it’s not priced.
And I’m not somebody who — I’ve never bought into these Malthusian — woe — Chicken Little, the earth is falling — I tend to be pretty optimistic. I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t pretty optimistic. But I think this is — the science is overwhelming. This is a real problem. It will have severe economic consequences, as well as political and national security and environmental consequences.
And I’m confident that if we do it smart, if we’re talking to you guys, if we’re talking to industries, if our projections don’t end up being wildly unrealistic, then I think we can handle this problem.