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What a national cap-and-trade program might look like

Ten Northeast states already have their own greenhouse-gas emissions regime. It's one model for the federal plan.

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Just after 9 on a recent morning, Bob Kasle sat down at his computer and glimpsed what could be the future of the climate bill the US House approved Friday.

It was, in the end, rather routine. It took the International Power employee about 20 minutes to complete his part in an online auction of more than 30 million carbon credits. His biggest concern, he confesses, was to not accidentally add too many zeroes to the bid.

But the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – a coalition of 10 Northeastern states that has agreed to limit carbon-dioxide emissions – is anything but ordinary. It is the preeminent greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program in the United States, and as such, it is the closest thing to a domestic model for the legislation now on Capitol Hill.

The offices of Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, who shepherded the American Clean Energy and Security Act through the House, have called RGGI representatives to ask about their auctions. From its inception, RGGI had intended to be a forerunner of national policy: "When we started, we were hoping that there would be a larger-scale federal program in the future," says Laurie Burt, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Now RGGI is providing a path for that federal effort. It "demonstrates that auctions can work," says Robert Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

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