Update below

The Center for American Progress offers a reminder that we already have a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions up and running in the U.S.— it’s called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, it operates in 10 northeastern states, and it works fairly well, according to CAP’s new review.

Bradford Plumer rounded up the details in the CAP post. Now I’m copping from his post—what fun, this internet.

Four useful takeaways here, via Plumer:

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  • The program started modestly—maybe too modestly: “The price of carbon is extremely low—a meager $2 per ton of emissions—which isn’t really high enough to persuade utilities to change their behavior.”
  • Polluters pay the low price—they don’t get giveaways: “All of those carbon permits are auctioned off by state governments, which has allowed states to raise about $88 million* for efficiency and renewable-power programs. So as a funding stream, it’s not too shabby.”
  • It’s not creating any Enrons: “It hasn’t been subject to the sorts of market manipulations or price volatility that people worry about with cap-and-trade. A recent audit found that the permit auctions have all gone off smoothly—no outsiders are leaping in and creating a carbon bubble.”
  • More will be revealed!: “Pretty soon, the cap will start tightening, prices will go up, and then we’ll presumably get a better look at how well the program forces power plants to reduce their emissions.”

Also, the cap-and-trade program is not killing the economy or freedom or kittens. This needs harping on. As urban designer Steve Price will tell you, the best way to convince people to embrace something new is to show them what it’s like. A theoretical phantom cap-and-trade system, in the hands of the right fear-mongers, can spook a lot of people. A real-life, moderately successful program just isn’t very scary. The real life version is less useful for drumming up Tea Party rallies. It’s more useful for taking modest early steps toward reigning in carbon pollution.

Related note: According to today’s New York Times, cap-and-trade is dead. John Broder writes the latest pre-mortem about why Congress will never pass an economy-wide cap-and-trade program.

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If you’re going to read it, keep in mind all the “healthcare reform is dead” stories and predictions that surfaced over the past year—Huffington Post has a roundup.

Or just skip it and listen to what Rep. Tom Periello has to say instead: “I’m sick of starting with what can we get through the Senate; let’s start with what solves the damn problem. Until the Senate gets its head out of its rear-end and starts to see the crisis we’re in, our country is literally at risk. Our economy is at risk, because these jobs are being created overseas.”

* A reader notes that $88 million was from only the most recent auction. Altogether, RGGI auctions have raised some $582 million for efficiency and renewable programs.