It’s (Sort of) Official: Cap & Trade Is (Almost) Here

After a ten-hour hearing in which board members endured more than 170 speakers, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted to “endorse” a 200-page set of rules for what will be the world’s second largest cap & trade program (after Europe).

CARB is charged with implementing the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, which mandates that California reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  The cap & trade program is a key piece of the Air Board’s plans.

“It’s an exciting program,” said Board chair Mary Nichols. “It’s a very big step forward.”

Not that the job is done. Several facets of the regulation will now undergo a fine-tuning process, with another report back to the board in July of next year. Eventually it will find its way to the state’s Office of Administrative Law for review, and finally to the governor’s office, to be signed as an executive order.

All that needs to happen by February of 2012, when the first carbon permits are scheduled to be meted out to major emitters; those with greenhouse gas emissions of more than 25,000 metric tons per year.

An entertaining blip in an otherwise soporific queue of speakers, was provided by a feisty Pam Pinkston of Fair Oaks, who accused the Board of making a power grab and asked if the next step might be a tax on “human exhalation.”

Valid points were raised, such as whether there should be “transition assistance” to universities with significant power plants, an exemption for waste-to-energy plants, or a more thorough review of forest offset programs, which some are concerned might condone clear-cutting (we were assured that they won’t). A representative from the Pentagon called for an exemption for military bases and an environmental justice group said it would sue to stop the plan under the Civil Rights Act.

The resolution includes a strong recommendation to use some of the carbon proceeds for a “community benefit fund,” to help ease any economic stress as those permit costs are passed along to consumers. The Air Board has no direct authority over how to spend revenues that come in, when carbon permits are auctioned off to industry.

Borrowing a line from Winston Churchill, one board member characterized Thursday’s vote as “the end of the beginning.”

Other coverage: Felicity Barringer’s story for The New York Times.

You can see California’s biggest carbon emitters with our interactive map


View KQED: California’s Biggest Industrial CO2 Emitters of 2008 in a larger map