Emission Trading Program Cleared

On December 16, the California Air Resources Board endorsed the state’s cap-and-trade regulation under the state’s greenhouse gas reduction law, AB32. The cap-and-trade regulation, along with several complementary measures, will drive the development of green jobs and set the state on track to a clean energy future, CARB predicts.

“This program is the capstone of our climate policy, and will accelerate California’s progress toward a clean energy economy,” says CARB Chairman Mary Nichols. “It rewards efficiency and provides companies with the greatest flexibility to find innovative solutions that drive green jobs, clean our environment, increase our energy security and ensure that California stands ready to compete in the booming global market for clean and renewable energy.”

The regulation sets a statewide limit on the emissions from sources the state says are responsible for 80 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions and establishes a price signal needed to drive long-term investment in cleaner fuels and more efficient use of energy. The program is designed to provide covered entities the flexibility to seek out and implement the lowest-cost options to reduce emissions.

CARB claims that the cap-and-trade program provides California with the opportunity to fill the growing global demand for the projects, patents and products needed to move away from fossil fuels and to cleaner energy sources. The CARB regulation will cover 360 businesses representing 600 facilities and is divided into two broad phases: an initial phase beginning in 2012 that will include all major industrial sources along with utilities; and, a second phase that starts in 2015 and brings in distributors of transportation fuels, natural gas and other fuels.

Companies are not given a specific limit on their greenhouse gas emissions but must supply a sufficient number of allowances (each covering the equivalent of one ton of carbon dioxide) to cover their annual emissions. Each year, the total number of allowances issued in the state drops, requiring companies to find the most cost-effective and efficient approaches to reducing their emissions. By the end of the program in 2020 there will be a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to today, CARB claims, reaching the same level of emissions as the state experienced in 1990, as required under AB 32.

To ensure a gradual transition, CARB will provide what it terms as “significant free allowances” to all industrial sources during the initial period. Companies that need additional allowances to cover their emissions can purchase them at regular quarterly auctions that CARB will conduct, or buy them on the market. Electric utilities will also be given allowances and they will be required to sell those allowances and dedicate the revenue generated for the benefit of their ratepayers and to help achieve AB 32 goals.

Eight percent of a company’s emissions can be covered using credits from compliance-grade offset projects, promoting the development of beneficial environmental projects in the forestry and agriculture sectors, says CARB. Included in the regulation are four protocols, or systems of rules, covering carbon accounting rules for offset credits in forestry management, urban forestry, dairy methane digesters, and the destruction of existing banks of ozone-depleting substances in the U.S. (mostly in the form of refrigerants in older refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment).

There are also provisions to develop international offset programs that could include the preservation of international forests, says CARB. A memorandum of understanding has already been signed with Chiapas, Mexico, and Acre, Brazil to establish these offset programs. The regulation is designed so that California may link up with programs in other states or provinces within the Western Climate Initiative, including New Mexico, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

The regulation has been in development for the past two years since the passage of the Scoping Plan in 2008. CARB staff held 40 public workshops on every aspect of the cap-and-trade program design, and hundreds of meetings with stakeholders. CARB staff also used the analysis of a blue ribbon committee of economic advisers, consultation with institutions that specialize in climate issues, and advice from experts with experience from other cap-and-trade programs elsewhere in the world, it says.