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Peter Orszag on Cap-and-Trade

Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag — who was as involved as anyone with the drafting of the budget outline President Obama rolled out this morning — just held a conference call with progressive media outlets and bloggers, and I took the opportunity to ask him about cap-and-trade in the budget.

He explained the mysterious math that led to the $646 billion revenue projection from selling allowances over the next ten years and revealed it to be … well, pretty mysterious.

“What we specified in the budget is a cap-and-trade target,” Orszag said. There are a number of paths to reach this target, and the budget team did not get into specifics when creating its projection. “Under any plausible path,” Orszag said, “there is sufficient funding to do the energy efficiency investments” and finance tax credits for low- and middle-income workers, as specified in the budget.

“We are expecting that cap-and-trade will raise at least $600 billion,” he continued, adding that any additional resources would be used to offset higher energy costs for households across the country.

Given the uncertain future of cap-and-trade in the face of heavy Republican opposition, I asked him if the administration was sufficiently confident the policy would be enacted that it felt comfortable tying $15 billion a year in clean energy investments to revenue from cap-and-trade.

His response: “We desperately want and need the energy efficiency improvements … and we think this is the most sensible way of financing those investments along with ‘making work pay.’”

A brief note: The budget outline sets aside $120 billion for “clean energy technologies,” but Orszag continually referred to this provision as a plan for “energy efficiency” improvements/investments. That leaves some uncertainty as to exactly what this funding will be used for. Or maybe the budget man, with dozens of 11-figure numbers floating around in his head, simply misspoke. Overall, though, his comprehensive understanding of all the issues contained in the budget was thoroughly impressive.

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