Three Bucks a Ton

You load 16 tons and whaddayou get? The late Tennessee Ernie Ford’s answer to that was “Another day older and deeper in debt.” But in the emerging carbon market, we now have a real answer: about $48.

At least that’s how much you’d use up in carbon credits if you participated in the nation’s first “cap-and-trade” auction for carbon emissions, which set the price for a ton of carbon in that particular market at $3.07. That auction last week was for RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, casually known as “Reggie.” It’s the carbon trading market set up by a group of ten northeastern states and it may give us a preview for when trading begins by the Western Climate Initiative, a consortium of eleven western states and Canadian provinces, including California. As I reported last week, the WCI just made public its general gameplan for carbon trading to begin in 2012. The first RGGI auction raised $40 million, which the states can now spend on developing low-carbon sources of energy (let’s hope “Reggie” fares better in the long run than “Fannie” and “Freddie.”)

Actually, 16 tons isn’t even enough to get you noticed in these carbon markets. Burning a gallon of gas in your car typically releases less than 20 pounds of CO2. Only facilities that pump out 25,000 tons or more per year will have to comply with WCI, which has yet to decide what portion of its credits to give away or auction off.

On Friday, we expect staffers at the California Air Resources Board to release the last version of their “scoping plan,” before it goes to the board for approval. It’s the master plan for implementing the state’s comprehensive law to combat the effects of climate change. Part of it hinges on California’s participation in the WCI, so the successful first auction of credits by RGGI bodes well.