Why CEOs want carbon laws

Executives of Ford, Duke Energy, and carbon trader EcoSecurities are hoping market mechanisms will help jumpstart green tech investments.

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By David Whitford, editor-at-large

Laguna Niguel, Calif. (Fortune) -- What do CEO Bill Ford of Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500), CEO Jim Rogers of Duke Energy (DUK, Fortune 500) and CEO Bruce Usher of carbon trader EcoSecurities (ECGUF) have in common? A deep aversion to unpredictability.

That's why Rogers has been begging for carbon legislation for years -- so he can make big investments in renewables. It's why Ford says he wants a gas tax -- so he can invest in smaller cars. And it's why Usher needs a cap and trade bill from Congress -- to jumpstart carbon trading in the U.S. and catalyze big investments in green technologies. Before it's too late.

"Market mechanisms not only work," Usher said during Tuesday's carbon finance session Fortune's Brainstorm: Green conference. "They work incredibly fast."

Usher does international deals under a cap-and-trade structure imposed by the Kyoto Protocol that makes polluters pay for burning fossil fuels and rewards investments in green technologies. In many ways, the political and social climate for doing such deals has never been more favorable. But here's the rub: Kyoto expires in three years. Carbon finance projects typically take two-and-a-half years to develop. Bottom line: Usher's deal flow has slowed to a crawl.

What's needed, he says, is a U.S. cap and trade system, like the one contemplated under Markey-Waxman. Ideally by year's end, he says, although both Usher and Bill Bumpers, chair of the climate change practice in the D.C. office of law firm Baker Potts, say that's highly unlikely. But action can't wait much longer. In December, delegates from around the world will gather in Copenhagen to begin planning a successor agreement to Kyoto. Where does the world's biggest economy stand on cap and trade? Other countries need to know. To top of page

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