In A Convenient Windfall: Global Warming’s Big Cash Dividend, published on March 23, 2007 at www.commondreams.org, Peter Barnes makes the excellent points that “we need to make polluters pay for fouling the atmosphere” and that “we’ll earn an enormous cash windfall if we fight global warming the right way.” Unfortunately, his “right way” is a cap-and-trade program.
As Barnes acknowledges, polluters are arguing that they should receive future carbon emission permits free of charge to avoid being hurt by a cap and trade program. In fact, they have received free allowances under existing cap-and-trade programs for NOx and SO2 and they have good reason to expect that they will receive free allowances if there is a carbon cap-and-trade program. Barnes is correct that “there’s real-world evidence that privatizing the climate windfall would be a serious mistake” and that when the European Union gave out free carbon emissions permits to coal-burning utilities, “the undisputed results were windfall profits for the utilities, higher prices for everyone else, and zero public benefit.”
Barnes concludes that the permits should be auctioned rather than given away. The danger is obvious. When it comes to making deals in Congress, the coal-mining companies and the companies burning coal have tremendous clout and the inevitable result will be a cap-and-trade program with the allowances given to the polluters along with the cash windfall.
The good news is that we really can earn an enormous cash windfall by fighting global warming the right way. That right way is by implementing a carbon tax, which is superior to cap-and-trade programs for all the reasons set forth in our issue paper on Carbon Taxes vs. Cap-and-Trade.