Thursday, May 7, 2009

Warren Buffett on Cap-and-Trade (BRK.A)

This is a couple months old but I thought I'd pull it out of the link-vault to compare with Charlie Munger's views, posted in "Berkshire Hathaway's Munger on Cap-and-Trade ("Monstrously Stupid Right Now...Almost Demented"); Warren and Charlie on Wind and Solar (BRK.A)".

Berkshire Hathaway owns over 22% of the nation's largest coal hauler, Burlington Northern.
The company's utility operation, MidAmerican Energy, owns one of the, if not the, largest natural gas pipeline systems in the country. MidAmerican also boasts the largest utility-owned wind generation system in the country.

Lastly, as a large property/casualty insurer and as a very large reinsurer they have a profound interest in natural disasters. Going through the Omaha World-Herald's coverage of the Q&A session of the annual meeting, a keyword search found no mention of "climate change" or "global warming". A "sustainable business practices" proposal garnered support from 4% of the shares.
Mr. Buffett is an unofficial advisor to President Obama.
Here's the video from CNBC, the transcript is below.

...JOE: And along the same line, we can pick and choose different things. And a lot of the e-mailers, actually, and Becky's probably seen them, too, have asked this: Mr. Buffett, on cap and trade, a lot of people think that that's going to hurt the overall economy. And I know you've got Conoco--a stake in Conoco, you've got utilities. Is that the right--do you support cap and trade, that provision of the--of the budget?

BUFFETT: Well, yeah. As you know, that hasn't been enacted yet or anything. But it is part of the budget that was put out the other day that--giving effect to it. Anything you put in that effectively taxes carbon emissions is--somebody's going to bear the brunt of it. In the case of a regulated utility, the utility customers are going to pay for it. I mean, it's going to become, in effect, a tax which we have decided is needed because the market system doesn't really appropriately penalize something that hurts the future but doesn't really hurt us tomorrow morning. But that tax is probably going to be pretty regressive. It'll be determined by individual public utility commissions state by state what customers it gets passed through to. But if you put a cost of issuing--putting carbon into the atmosphere, it--in the utility business it's going to be born by customers. And it's a tax like anything else. If--in terms of ConocoPhillips, it would be less direct, anything of that sort. Or in terms of industry generally.

JOE: Yeah.

BUFFETT: But in terms of the utility industry, it'll be passed through.

JOE: And the coal industry, make it tougher. Are--then are you saying that we should not do that at this point?

BUFFETT: Well, I think--I think we should evaluate it in terms of the economy when we get to that point, but I think we should get the economy straightened. I think job one, job two and job three is the economy, Joe. I think--I think the future does have to have a constituency. I mean, if the market system is going to produce something that over 100 years or 150 years really will change the world in a big way, you better have something that forces the market system to adapt to that reality in the future.

Whether the cap and trade--our own guys at MidAmerican Energy, I--who are very smart fellows and who you could have on to talk to about it, generally do not lean in favor of cap and trade. But they would be better to explain the reasons than I. One way or another, society will pay for it, though.

JOE: Yeah. I'm going to take that as against cap and trade....

From "TRANSCRIPT & VIDEO: Ask Warren Buffett on CNBC's Squawk Box - Part 7"
10:49 AM ET
Monday, 9 Mar 2009