There's a rumble brewing between the government and a Big Oil biggie over rival plans to limit emissions, in which so-called cap-and-trade systems are at the forefront. 

Here's the situation: The U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which consists of 26 major companies, has advanced a proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 2005 levels by 2050. The companies include General Electric (NYSE:GE), Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK), and Deere (NYSE:DE).

As strict as that plan may appear, it's less stringent than the program proposed by President Obama, which would advocate the same 80% reduction, but would use a 1990 base, when emissions were 15% lower than in 2005. Beyond that, the companies' proposal includes an increase in nuclear power, investments in renewable energy, and an expanded emphasis on "clean coal."

The group's program typically travels under the cap-and-trade moniker, because it's based on credits issued by the government to companies that emit the polluting gasses. Those credits can then be traded by those with lower emissions to others that release more gasses into the atmosphere.

To my way of thinking, however, there are a couple of other issues that should be considered before we rush out and pass any new greenhouse gas measures:

  • There are those, including Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the senior Republican on the House panel considering the issue, who remain unconvinced that climate change has been scientifically proven beyond a doubt.
  • Despite backing for the proposal from such major resources companies as ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), BP (NYSE:BP), and Rio Tinto (NYSE:RTP), support for the effort is not coming from ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), Big Oil's biggest. Indeed, Rex Tillerson, the company's CEO, last week advocated a simple tax on greenhouse emissions, seemingly a far less complicated and more manageable approach.

Am I going to take sides here? No. Given how we're slogging through a weak economy these days, I think we should get that situation under control before we latch onto either cap-and-trade or a carbon tax. Either proposal would be expensive and potentially dangerous to a fragile economy -- at least for now.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does, however, welcome your questions or comments. Duke Energy is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.