Trade-offs in Allocating Allowances for CO2 Emissions
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Trade-offs in Allocating Allowances for CO2 Emissions

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      In light of scientific evidence about the potential damages from climate change, the Congress is considering legislation that would impose a “cap-and-trade” program to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. The merit of a cap-and-trade program is that, like a tax on CO2 emissions, it could motivate businesses and households to reduce emissions in the least costly way. Such programs have been used successfully in the United States to limit the cost of reducing emissions of other air pollutants, such as lead in gasoline and nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide from electricity generators. This brief examines how policymakers' decisions about allocating the allowances would affect the total cost of the policy to the U.S. economy, as well as the distribution of that cost among households in their various roles as workers, consumers, and investors. Although cap-andtrade programs could cover all greenhouse gases, this brief focuses on a program for CO2 emissions.
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