Director of Congressional Bugdet Office on Cap and Trade

A couple of days ago the Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf wrote about his Senate testimony on cap and trade revenue redistribution on his blog late last week. Worth a quick read, the main text below. The full 28 page testimony is linked in his note. It’s worth noting that the homepage of the CBO has a climate temperature chart on in front and center this week.

“Testimony: The Distribution of Revenues from a Cap-and-Trade Program for Carbon Dioxide Emissions

I testified this morning before the Senate Finance Committee on the distribution of revenues from a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions. My comments emphasized these points:

A cap-and-trade program would lead to higher prices for energy and energy-intensive goods, which would provide incentives for households and businesses to use less energy and to develop energy sources that emit less carbon dioxide. Higher relative prices for energy would also shift income among households at different points in the income distribution and across industries and regions of the country. Policymakers could counteract those income shifts by using the revenues from selling emission allowances to compensate certain households or businesses, or by giving allowances away.

In distributing the value of the allowances, policymakers have a wide range of options but face trade-offs. For example:

  • If allowances were auctioned, some of the revenue could be used to fund climate-related research and development. This approach might reduce the cost of transitioning from a high carbon emissions economy, but it would not provide any immediate help to affected industries or households.
  • Instead, auction revenue could be used to reduce existing taxes on capital or labor. This could lessen the overall economic cost of restricting emissions but would do little to offset the burden that higher prices would impose on certain industries or households.
  • A different approach is to use the revenue to give rebates to low-income households, perhaps using the tax system. This would lessen the burden on these households but not trim economy-wide costs.
  • Alternatively, allowances could be given away for free to certain industries. Giving away allowances is generally equivalent to auctioning the allowances and giving the proceeds to the same firms. Giving allowances to energy-intensive manufacturers would not, by itself, hold down the price of their output, which would rise to reflect the private market value of the allowances. The result could be windfall profits for these firms, which would tend to benefit higher-income households who own most stocks. However, if receipt of free allowances was tied to future production or employment, then prices would not rise as much as otherwise. At the same time, because these firms would not reduce emissions as much as they would have without free allowances, other sectors of the economy would have to reduce emissions by a larger amount to meet the overall cap.”

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners and Chairman of Carbonflow, Inc. and Cleantech.org.

1 reply
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Carbon constraints in some form or another will be coming into effect soon–the conundrum is how to do it while strengthening the economy. Most immediately, the EPA just relased its proposed mandatory GHG reporting rule for organizations that emit more than 25,000 tons of CO2e a year. And when it comes GHG emissions reporting, there needs to be a common system of standards on measuring, monitoring and managing carbon footprints. CSA just launched the GHG CleanStart™ Registry based on ISO 14064. It is a great resource for information on establishing organization’s baseline carbon footprint and defining carbon offset projects. Also, CSA Climate Change is being featured in Canadian Business Journal.

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