CCX, RIP—or is it “good riddance”?

Chicago Mercantile ExchangeThe Chicago Climate Exchange, one of the first voluntary cap-and-trade programs, is shutting down next month. That’s bad news for the planet, isn’t it? Just take a look at today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page for an apparent confirmation. There the news is being celebrated as “cap and retreat.” Check.

That should indeed be confirmation enough. Sadly, what’s good for the Journal tends to be bad for the planet. Here that may not hold, although it’s not for the reasons the Journal thinks.

One among many

The full editorial is behind a firewall. That’s just as well. The rest is as wrong as the beginning. Let’s start with the only direct quote. The Journal opinionators say the CCX advertised itself as “North America’s only cap and trade system for greenhouse gasses.” In fact, CCX’s own webpage says it’s “North America’s only cap and trade system for all six greenhouse gases.” That makes all the difference.

Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is or will be covered in at least 15 states. RGGI covers 10 Northeastern states with its carbon cap, and Californians just reaffirmed with a clear vote of 60 to 40 to put in place theirs (which also covers all six greenhouse gases). New Mexico has announced similar plans.

Volunteerism won’t do

There’s also a much larger point here. The CCX was voluntary. Companies volunteered to sign up. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to realize that the only companies who sign up for reasons other than marketing purposes are the ones that have allowances to sell. Those that need to buy them, stay as far away as possible.

No market can operate under these conditions. If anything, it’s surprising the market held up as long as it did—no doubt due to companies’ willingness to write off their participation as a marketing expense. Why else would the price for a ton of emissions ever be much above zero?

Thanks for the memories

CCX did provide some valuable lessons for participants. Chief among them, how to implement such a trading system internally, how to minimize emissions and make money, and whether and how it would be different from SO2 trading, something many CCX participants did successfully for over a decade.

But CCX was never meant to be anything other than a precursor for a U.S.-wide system.

The same, of course, goes for most state-wide initiatives. New Mexico’s plans will put the state ahead of most others in the U.S., but Santa Fe alone will not prevent China from pulling farther ahead of the U.S. in generating sustainable jobs, or decrease the billions we send to the Middle East every year.

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