But it’s just another milestone in a long journey that’s far from finished
It’s official (no, really, this time). California has cap & trade — or will once the program starts ramping up next year. Today’s approval by the state’s Air Resources Board was described by chair Mary Nichols as like “moving a large army a few feet in one direction.”
The objective that “army” is marching — or shuffling — toward is, of course, the fulfillment of California’s goal to roll back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the end of this decade. With at least a semi-intentional pun, Nichols calls cap & trade the “capstone” of that effort, although the program is expected to produce at most, 20% of the hoped-for reductions in carbon emissions. The rest will come from other measures either lumped under or related to the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, more widely known as AB 32.
Those other measures include stricter standards for tailpipe emissions, a “low-carbon fuels standard” (still being worked on), and the ambitious-but-attainable goal to get a third of the state’s electricity from renewable energy sources, also by 2020.
The next major milestone will come late next year, when the state begins meting out permits or “allowances” to release carbon dioxide into the air. At first, 90% of those permits will be given away but analysts have estimated that within a few years, at least half will be auctioned off at a price estimated by Thomson Reuters Point Carbon analytical service to be about $36 a ton.
To most of us, that doesn’t mean much by itself, but for a refinery pumping out a few million tons a year (link to map), that adds up to some serious revenue for the state. How those “carbon dollars” will be spent is one aspect of the program that has yet to be worked out.
Speakers representing business and other interests, including a large contingent from ConocoPhillips, which has four refineries in California, mounted an eleventh-hour appeal to the Board, to stretch out the compliance schedule. Lisa Bowman, who works in safety compliance at the company’s Carson and Wilmington refineries, told me she regards the state emissions fees that will be required as the biggest threat to her job in 22 years.
“We want clean air, there’s no doubt,” Bowman told me after her testimony. “But at the same time the restrictions that this bill is putting on us could run our employer out of business, which puts thousands of people out of work.”
Here are some program highlights, taken from a breakdown provided by the Air Board:
· Program covers about 350 businesses, representing 600 facilities
· Starts in 2013 for electric utilities and large industrial facilities
· Starts in 2015 for distributors of transportation, natural gas and other fuels
· Designed to link with similar trading programs in other states and regions
· Set in 2013 at about 2% below the missions level forecast for 2012
· Declines about 2% in 2014
· Declines about 3% annually from 2015 to 2020
Allowances (Permits to Emit CO2)
· Large industrial facilities
- Start with free allocation but must buy auctioned allowances later
· Electric utilities
- Free distribution, with value of allowances to benefit ratepayers
- Allowances to be set at about 90% of average recent emissions
· January 1, 2012: Cap-and-trade regulation becomes effective
· August and November, 2012: first auctions planned
· January 1, 2013: Compliance obligation for emissions begins