Cap-and-Trade Allowances: The Auction v. Allocation Debate Begins to Heat Up

As we noted last week, President Obama’s budget includes revenue from auctioning 100% of allowances under a cap-and-trade system. ClimateWire today reports two competing versions of the prospects for a 100% auction approach. First, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy signed up a number of economists, including Franklin Fisher of MIT, in support of the President’s plan to auction all allowances from the get-go. Part of the argument reflects environmental justice concerns, stemming from the recognition that a cap-and-trade program will increase utility costs. The Southern Alliance is expecting that some of the auction proceeds would be rebated back to low-income consumers, thus cushioning that blow.

As ClimateWire notes, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which includes the NRDC, EDF, and the Nature Conservancy, has already lined up behind a plan that would allocate up to 40% of allowances to industry at the beginning of the program, with the amount of allocated allowances decreasing to zero over time.

In the same issue, ClimateWire reported that Abyd Karmali, the head of carbon emissions for Merrill Lynch, has concluded that the President’s proposal won’t fly in today’s economy.  Mr. Karmali predicts that not more than 30% – 50% of allowances will be auctioned initially.

Will the President get his way or is Mr. Karmali correct?  Over the past year, people have underestimated President Obama at their peril.  At the same time, it’s hard to argue with Mr. Karmali’s assessment of the current political climate.  Unless we get some prompt political climate change, I’d guess that a 100% auction approach remains some years away.

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