Politico interviewed William Antholis, managing director of the Brookings Institution, about the connection between the environment and security, and among other things Antholis made this very smart observation:

Q: What energy-related issues have the presidential candidates ignored during the campaign?

A: What hasn’t really been fully debated, and where there is some difference between candidates, is what a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions would look like. Both favor it, but they favor different ones.

Barack Obama would like to auction permits, similar to the radio spectrum that led to the growth of cell phones and satellite radio. John McCain would want to allocate emissions permits — establish a set number of permits that would decrease over time. The problem with allocating permits is that it is inherently political in determining who gets what. Also, economists will tell you it’s a much less efficient way than auctioning permits.

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That’s quite an enormous debate. At a time when securities markets are not in the public favor, you’re setting up an entirely new public exchange.

Of course it’s a bit of a fantasy to think something this wonky would ever get a full public airing in a presidential campaign, but it’s too bad — it’s really a clear cut choice between superior public policy and the interests of particular large industries. (Long defense of auctioned permits here.) That kind of choice can be quite revealing.