It’s a shocking reversal from one of the states that pioneered efforts to deal with global warming from electric power plants.

The New York Times reveals that New York state’s accidental Gov. David A. Paterson has caved in to energy industry demands and now appears ready to run roughshod over his own experts to give industry free carbon emission permits.

Aside from the fact that this is a major policy retreat — and threatens to undermine President Obama’s strategy of requiring polluting power companies to buy carbon permits through an auction — there are several reasons why this is a rotten idea:

First, it looks as if Paterson has prejudged the issue by requiring his Department of Environmental Conservation to “reopen” state regulations. It smells like a violation of the state administrative procedures act. (Agencies like this aren’t supposed to commit to an end point of a regulatory process until the process itself ends.)

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Second, it threatens to undermine the integrity of the regional greenhouse gas trading program, or RGGI, that has helped pave the way for a national program. Will other states follow Paterson in retreat?

And, third, it is a shocking reversal from the state that was a pioneer in the carbon auction approach (under the leadership of then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer).

By giving away free permits to polluters, Paterson appears to be aligning himself with people like Duke Energy’s Jim Rogers, who is maneuvering to kill climate legislation in Congress unless his company gets a major payoff in the form of free permits.

Why this change of course? The Times alludes to industry campaign contributions to Paterson. More reporting ought to be done on this. And reporters ought to ask Patterson if he supports Obama — or now is really in bed with the people who want to kill Obama’s climate initiative.

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