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Oakland Forum Debates Cap-and-Trade

Submitted by News Desk on Fri, 07/01/2011 - 11:58am
OAKLAND--California’s landmark climate change law, AB 32, would reduce polluting greenhouse gases from a range of sources—car and truck emissions, industrial sources, electricity producers and other sources—with each source slashed by a certain percentage. For example, 36 percent of the greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions will come from transportation—24 percent from cars that produce lower emissions, 9 percent from cleaner-burning fuels, an 3 percent from smart-growth development that decreases dependency on cars and encourages public transit.

The overall target is to reduce GHG emissions by 2020 to the levels they were at in 1990.

The regulations are supposed to be implemented at the start of 2012, but right now there’s a legal battle playing out in the courts over just how to attain those targeted reductions. A cap-and-trade system is supposed to account for 20 percent of the GHG reductions, but that strategy was opposed by an array environmental groups, many of them who participated on the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee whose creation was mandated by AB 32 to make sure that whatever formulas were devised to reduce pollution would benefit, not harm communities that already are burdened by GHG emissions and pollution.

On Friday, Bay Area environmental justice and community groups gathered in downtown Oakland, at a forum called by Urban Habitat’s Social Equity Caucus to discuss AB 32 and the politics and policies of implementing the state’s climate change law—and how cap-and-trade could be replaced by alternatives that would not reward polluters.

“Our purpose is to localize a complex state program that has significant environmental and health implications for low income communities and communities of color,” said Frank Lopez, coordinator of the Social Equity Caucus. “There are lots of measures already in the works to address greenhouse gas emission, like clean car technology and energy efficiency. But cap-and-trade is the largest, new measure.”

What exactly is cap-and-trade and why do so many environmentalists oppose it—enough to file suit against its implementation?

The idea is that industries and manufacturers that generate GHG will be permitted to emit a capped amount of pollution and if they emit less than their target, they can sell their pollution permits to other companies that emit more than their legal limit. Cap-and-trade has been debated on the national level, but California would be the first state to enact such a program. There is a similar cap-and-trade program among 10 northeastern states, called Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or Reggie. Low-income people tend to live in areas closest to the polluting industries, manufacturing centers and transportation hubs, which means closest to the most degraded environmental conditions.

While the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee supported most of the strategies for attaining the target emissions reductions, members saw cap-and-trade as a losing proposition for the state and poor communities. But its advice to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which is the lead agency in implementing AB 32, was ignored, said Chione Flegal, of Policy Link, who is a member of the advisory committee. She spoke at today’s panel.

“From the get-go, the committee was set up to not work,” she said. “The environmental justice groups were fundamentally opposed to cap-and-trade but the governor was firm on it…the governor wanted a mandate. And the committee was saying, ‘we’re going to fight you every step of the way on it.’”

The governor then was Arnold Schwarzenegger, but even with a new governor, the CARB is still barreling ahead with a cap-and-trade component to AB 32’s regulations. A lawsuit has slowed things down. It was filed by Communities for a Better Environment and the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment and it succeeded in winning a stay of implementation of the cap-and-trade program. But CARB is challenging that in court, too, and what happens next will be played out in the courts and at public hearings over the next few months.

The lawsuit and the people behind it argue that CARB didn’t consider other approaches even though they were not bound to use a cap-and-trade program. How about simply direct regulation, prohibiting industry from emitting more than a limited amount of GHG—instead of allowing them to buy the right to emit more pollution? Adrienne Bloch, attorney with Communities for a Better Environment, told the audience that CARB is now undertaking an analysis of alternatives to the cap-and-trade approach and it is supposed to be ready in the middle of June.

Although Schwarzenegger was considered by many a strong leader on environmental policy, he was wedded to the cap-and-trade approach favored by business. Some like Bloch hope that Jerry Brown will now offer different leadership on AB 32.

Time will tell.

Read an in-dept report on the AB 32 debate over cap-and-trade in the current issue of Urban Habitat's journal Race, Poverty and the Environment.

Source: The Bay Citizen (