Hey, look, the New York Times and the Washington Post have decided it’s significant that Obama’s budget includes carbon auction revenue! I guess people are allowed to talk about it now. A good start might be reading my post on the subject from three $%@^! days ago. (Yes, I’m aware bitterness is unattractive.)

There are a few notable features of the treatment of cap-and-trade in the just-released budget proposal. I’ll break it up into a few posts.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

First, the projected revenue seems strikingly low. Partly this is a function of the fact that the targets themselves, particularly in the short term, are fairly weak — 14 percent under 2005 levels by 2020, 83 percent by 2050. (Sane climate policy would reduce emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, at least.)

Still, the proposal explicitly says that the administration expects 100 percent of the permits to be auctioned off. As Kate noted, the CBO estimated (PDF) that "the value of those allowances could total between $50 billion and $300 billion annually (in 2006 dollars) by 2020." The administration’s estimate — $83 billion a year by 2020 — is well at the bottom end of those projections.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

My guess — apparently confirmed by "senior White House officials" who don’t invite me to their conference calls — is that this is simple conservatism. The inclusion of any carbon revenue at all is sure to spark controversy, so they’re simply being cautious not to lay too ambitious a marker. It’s possible both the targets and the revenue could be boosted in the course of Congressional sausage-making, though color me somewhat pessimistic about that.