From today’s Economic View column in the NYTimes:
One goal of a tradeable permit system is to force consumer prices for goods to reflect the harm that the production of those goods causes the planet. For example, if a television were made using a high-emission process, the factory would have to buy many carbon permits, driving up the TV’s price. A television made in a low-emission factory would require fewer permits, lowering its relative price. Consumers, of course, would have an incentive to choose the TV from the low-emission factory, and all factories would have an incentive to lower emissions.
A problem would arise, however, if a producer needed to buy permits to make televisions in a country with a carbon cap, while no permits were required in a country without a cap. The television from the country without the cap would be cheaper, consumers would prefer it, and there would be no economic incentive to cut emissions. Environmentalists call this the “leakage problem”: just as a balloon squeezed at one end will bulge at the other, emissions caps applied in only some economies will lead to emissions surges in others.
A provision in the current version of the Climate Security Act links responsibility to carbon consumption, not production. This idea derives from a joint proposal by the American Electric Power Company and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The provision requires that importers of goods from countries without carbon caps obtain permits for the emissions resulting from the goods’ production. While this requirement could be used to protect American jobs from foreign competition, if handled equitably, it could provide an elegant solution to the leakage problem.
A bit protectionist but the jobs protection is more like an unintended consequence of the policy instead of the primary motive. I like it. And I hate silly protectionism.
Hat tip: T Mac