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Cap and Trade: Wall Street's Latest Scheme

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

One sector is immune from the economic downturn: global warming lobbyists. A new report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) finds that over 2,000 lobbyists have wielded their influence to affect the outcome of the debate over the costly federal regulation of greenhouse gases. Included in the lobbying ranks were Wall Street firms that were bailed out by the American taxpayer.

According to the CPI study, lobbyists for Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase were involved, and, in total, "the finance industry has as large a lobbying force on climate as the alternative energy industry, with about 130 reps working the issue last year..."

JPMorgan got $25 billion in TARP money last fall while Goldman obtained $10 billion. The stated purpose of the cash infusion was to recapitalize the banks so they could resume consumer lending.

It can be assumed that this lobbying bonanza will only increase in scope since President Obama, in his February 24 speech to Congress, asked for “…legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

After taking a financial beating from the explosion of the housing bubble, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan undoubtedly are desperate to find new markets to generate windfall profits. A cap-and-trade regulatory scheme offers them lucrative potential for profits – at least, on paper.

The regulatory scheme would place federal caps on carbon emissions, and could lead to the creation of the largest commodity market in the world. A commissioner of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission estimated that, "even with conservative assumptions, this could be a $2 trillion futures market in relatively short order." That would make the carbon market potentially bigger than futures markets of oil and natural gas.

To take advantage of this opportunity, Goldman has invested in European and U.S. carbon trading platforms, including the Chicago Climate Exchange. JPMorgan invested in the creation of The Green Exchange™, a unit of the New York Mercantile Exchange that will trade in “a comprehensive range of environmental futures, options, and swaps contracts for markets focused on solutions to climate change …”

Investing in trading platforms represents only part of Wall Street’s green scheme. Goldman and JPMorgan have invested heavily in renewable energy companies. Goldman “invested over $2.5 billion in clean technology such as renewable energy and energy efficiency projects…” and JPMorgan “has invested (or committed to invest) a total of $2.4B for its own portfolio in renewable energy transactions and raised $3.4B from other parties.”

Clearly, these firms have placed a huge wager on cap-and-trade since the legislation will make carbon dioxide a commodity and drive demand for renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels.

But carbon trading is very speculative at best. For example, JPMorgan is seeking to create carbon emission credits from distributing energy-efficient stoves in Africa. Since the stoves will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere because they burn less fuel than traditional cooking methods, the company wants to claim the savings as a carbon emission credit. The carbon credits would then be sold in the carbon exchange to a company that is over its government mandated limit.

According to Fortune Magazine, if JPMorgan can “distribute 10 million stoves… you could be looking at a business with modest costs and between $200 million and $450 million a year in revenues.”

There must be something in the water on Wall Street that makes these firms dream up such ridiculous ideas. Creating a market built on a house of cards that man’s activity is causing global warming is dangerous enough, but that risk gets magnified when markets are created by assigning an artificial value to a ubiquitous and invisible gas such as carbon dioxide.

Our economy is already reeling from the banks’ involvement in debacles such as mortgage securitization. Now Wall Street wants to gamble on carbon dioxide credit IOUs.

If the financial industry could not manage the risks associated with mortgages - which are based on tangible assets - how can it possibly manage the risks associated with trading emission credits?

For instance, how is JPMorgan going to verify the use of millions of stoves in Africa?

At a time when some investors are turning to gold and other precious metals because they fear a loss in value of paper money, the president and Wall Street are advocating for a policy that assigns a price to air.

Unfortunately, with the “too big to fail” belief dominating the country, we simply can’t laugh at Wall Street CEOs and such a misuse of our capital markets.

Sadly, due to the bailout, the laugh is on us because taxpayer money is propping up Wall Street and its latest lobbying effort.

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