Selected category: California

California Models Climate and Air Pollution Action with Balanced Approach

Air pollution visible in downtown Los Angeles | Photo by Diliff, via wikipedia comms

California is once again demonstrating its bold climate leadership. As Washington, D.C. continues to abdicate its role as a climate champion, California is stepping up to extend its landmark cap-and-trade program, address local air pollution, and push California businesses forward toward a cleaner economy.

Environmental Defense Fund strongly supports AB 398 (E. Garcia) and AB 617 (C. Garcia), as well as their authors, Legislative leadership, and the Brown Administration. We commend their vision and initiative on a bill package that addresses the growing threat from climate change and improves public health outcomes by addressing local air pollution in the most impacted neighborhoods.

AB 398: Extending the cap-and-trade program

This bill seeks to extend California’s groundbreaking cap-and-trade program until 2030, with a 2/3 vote. We support this bill for 3 key reasons:

  1. This bill maintains the environmental integrity of California’s cap on emissions. By introducing a price ceiling on allowances, the Air Resources Board with the Legislature’s guidance provides greater certainty on costs. Done poorly, such a ceiling can put environmental outcomes at risk. This proposal addresses that concern by requiring that any excess emissions be made up for by high-integrity emissions reductions outside the cap. This ensures that California does not bust through its emissions cap.
  2. This proposal extends the economic benefits of cap and trade. California has added over a million jobs since cap and trade launched in 2013, and this bill includes important provisions to further develop a green workforce for the 21st century economy. At the same time, cap and trade encourages investments in alternative forms of fuel. This decreases our dependence on fossil fuels, which protects consumers from volatile gas prices.
  3. Extending cap and trade sets a national example for other states to follow. California is on track to meet our 2020 target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels, and the 2030 goal is even more ambitious. We are demonstrating that emissions reduction and a thriving economy can go hand-in-hand. And we will not leave our most vulnerable communities behind.

AB 617: Clean air for California’s most vulnerable communities

The second part of this essential package is an unprecedented air quality bill which seeks to address local air pollution in California’s most impacted neighborhoods. For EDF, these are the 3 main reasons we are committed to supporting this bill:

  1. This measure targets neighborhoods burdened by multiple sources of air pollution. California communities like Richmond, Modesto, or Torrance aren’t polluted by just cars or one refinery – they have many different sources of air pollution. This bill identifies these neighborhoods and focuses monitoring and emissions reduction plans based on burden, rather than source.
  2. Industrial facilities are required to upgrade their technology. There are many facilities that have not been upgraded in decades. This means they emit far more pollution than if current technology were used. This bill requires that industrial sources covered by cap and trade are retrofitted to a standard that reflects technological advances, but are also cost-effective.
  3. This bill increases penalties for big polluters. Many air pollution penalties haven’t been adjusted since the 1970’s. This bill increases these so big polluters no longer have an advantage over facilities that follow the law. This is critically important to hold polluters accountable, especially for the residents who live nearby.

Yes, there is still compromise in politics

California can address climate change without leaving communities behind.

The ability to compromise seems absent from most political arenas these days. The zero-sum strategies of filibusters and government shutdowns are more the norm than a negotiated settlement. However, the California State Senate and Assembly Leadership, along with Governor Brown’s Administration have re-discovered the art of the possible, and isn’t that what politics is all about? They have managed to find the compromise with stakeholders that addresses the twin challenges of climate pollution and air quality.

This package is a path forward that demonstrates to the country and to the world that California can address climate change without leaving communities behind.

There is no silver bullet to accomplish this, despite what we all wish. The environmental community needs businesses to thrive so California’s economy remains strong. Business needs the environmental community to hold them accountable. The Legislature needs all of us to help continue setting the standard on climate policy. We don’t get to take our ball and go home because things aren’t going our way.

As we demonstrate how to address climate change and air pollution, let’s also demonstrate to Washington, D.C. how to compromise. We urge the Legislature to support AB 398 and AB 617.

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Making a deal on California’s cap and trade: It’s all about the cap

Inside the California State Capitol building in Sacramento. Photo via Flickr/ kkanouse

California politicians are deep into negotiations over how to extend the backbone of the state’s climate policies, the cap-and-trade program. The Governor’s office and legislative leadership are nearing a compromise that can lock in the 2/3 vote that would provide the strongest legal foundation for a future cap-and-trade program and accelerate the state’s progress to cleaning up the air.

The integrity of the cap is critical, because it is the cap that provides the guarantee that California will meet its climate target.

The comedian Larry David once said “A good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied.” Elected leaders can probably identify with that sentiment, as they take on the unenviable task of constructing a deal among multiple parties — one that would be a critical step forward for climate action, but might still leave everyone involved at least a little dissatisfied.

As they do, we at EDF will be laser-focused on one question related to cap-and-trade design: Does the deal protect the environmental integrity of the cap?

In the current negotiations, the issue of integrity comes to the fore with one particular aspect of the draft proposal: the design of a "price ceiling" for emission allowances.

It’s all about the cap…

The integrity of the cap is critical, because it is the cap that provides the guarantee that California will meet its target. California has a portfolio of climate policies working together to reduce emissions, and all have their role to play. The signature feature of the cap-and-trade program is that it places a firm limit on carbon pollution and holds the state accountable for achieving the climate targets set in law.

The central importance of the cap in ensuring that the state meets its goals is critical to keep in mind when considering one key aspect of the compromise deal being discussed in the Capitol: a so-called “price ceiling” on the allowances polluters need to comply with their obligations under the cap. While a limit on allowance prices might sound like a good idea, if poorly designed it could come at a significant cost to the integrity of the program — because the only way to keep prices from rising above the ceiling is to allow unlimited emissions.

In other words, a price ceiling is potentially a blank check to polluters that risks busting a hole in the cap. That introduces the risk that California blows past its targets — undermining its claim to climate leadership, and raising the chances of climate catastrophe.

A plan to board up the busted cap

The potential saving grace in the current proposal is that they have a plan for how to board up the hole in California’s climate target if the price ceiling is deployed. The Air Resources Board is required to use revenue raised through compliance at the price ceiling to secure high-quality reductions to make up for any excess above California’s cap. It’s important that this provision be protected, by guaranteeing that all the revenue from a price ceiling is used to reduce emissions, and by imposing a requirement that the emissions debt created by the price ceiling is repaid on at least a ton-for-ton basis.

Now, a far better strategy would be to use or strengthen the tools that have kept cap-and-trade costs down so far, like a reserve of allowances and offsets to avoid getting close to the price ceiling in the first place. But a plan for boarding up the hole is better than nothing at all.

Price ceiling should be a “Break glass in case of emergency” — and only an emergency strategy

The best argument that can be made for a price ceiling is that it can prevent even worse outcomes, such as prices rising high enough to threaten the continued existence of the program. To be clear, such an outcome is highly unlikely — but anyone who lived through the electricity crisis of 2000 knows that we can’t rule anything out.

If a price ceiling is to be included, it must be as a last resort — a kind of “Break Glass In Case of Emergency” strategy. And just like a fire alarm behind a pane of glass, it should really be reserved for genuine emergencies — not simply to let polluters off the hook.

EDF will be laser-focused on one question related to cap-and-trade design: Does the deal protect the environmental integrity of the cap?

It’s also important that the program itself be allowed to function as intended. The beauty of the cap-and-trade program is that it lets the price rise or fall to whatever level is necessary to cut emissions in line with the target. A high price serves as a valuable signal to spur investment in new innovations that can then drive costs down. Set the price ceiling too low, and you cut off that signal — potentially driving prices up in the long run.

All of that means that the price ceiling needs to be high enough that it doesn’t threaten the integrity of the program, or interfere with the ordinary working of the market.

The current proposal wisely provides some very clear and specific direction to the Air Resources Board which will be able to carefully consider and get extensive stakeholder input before setting on a final number. This is not giving carte blanche to an executive agency but rather identifying factors that will dictate an acceptable range and also recognizing the complexity and importance of setting the right price ceiling number.

EDF would much prefer that the signature feature of California’s climate policy, the cap, not be put at risk in the first place. But we are also committed to actively working toward a deal while still fighting for the best possible safeguards for the cap.

Even as we have to contemplate compromises in California it is important to keep our eye on shining optimism that California does represent. The state is debating how not whether to act on climate and for many enduring the sometimes demoralizing swamps of D.C. this is an enviable place to be.

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California Legislature holds key to protecting health of Californians and our climate

The California Legislature is in the midst of a critically important discussion right now: how can the state do more to clean the air for all residents and address climate change?

As a native of South Los Angeles with deep roots in the environmental justice community, I’ve seen first-hand that there’s still more that needs to be done to improve our air quality. At the same time, California is a longtime leader on climate issues, in large part due to its cap-and-trade program that’s successfully limited climate pollution.

Assemblymember Cristina Garcia’s bill, AB 378, though still a work in progress, would provide incentives for major greenhouse gas emitters to reduce localized air pollution, on top of extending a key tool to keep their carbon emissions below a certain limit.

Right now, AB 378 is the only bill in the California Legislature that is seeking to both improve air quality in the most impacted local communities and fight climate change globally. Here’s why we think the Legislature must pass it as soon as possible.

 How we should extend cap and trade

The question we must ask ourselves is not whether we should extend cap and trade – we should, as I explain next – but rather how we can extend it. Three things need to happen for California’s cap-and-trade program to be successfully extended beyond 2020:

  1. The cap-and-trade program itself, which is succeeding in its goal of reducing carbon emissions, should be strengthened. This includes ensuring jobs are created across California neighborhoods – an issue the Legislature is working to address in other proposals – as well as better meeting the needs of rural communities.
  2. Air quality concerns in California’s environmental justice communities must be addressed. There are many suggestions of how this can be done, but this public health issue cannot be ignored.
  3. Cap-and-trade should be passed with a supermajority of votes (2/3 of both the state Assembly and the Senate) this session. That will provide it the greatest legal certainty in a post-2020 program, and inoculate cap and trade from further “illegal tax”-type challenges.

Why we should extend cap and trade now

The best way to continue California’s climate leadership and successful climate policies, is for the Legislature to extend cap and trade beyond 2020 this year with a 2/3 vote.

EDF is advocating for this extension because California’s cap-and-trade program:

  • Provides the certainty needed for a strong and stable climate program. Eliminating post-2020 uncertainty by voting on a cap-and-trade extension this year limits market volatility and creates greater price and revenue predictability. This in turn helps local businesses plan investments, hire new employees, and adopt the next groundbreaking technology.
  • Demonstrates that protecting the environment need not come at the expense of economic growth. California has added over a million jobs since cap and trade launched in 2013, far surpassing the national average. This includes blue-collar jobs in parts of the state plagued by high unemployment. California has also grown to be the sixth largest economy in the world.
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions. California is on track to meet its 2020 target of reducing these emissions to 1990 levels. Our 2030 goal is even more ambitious – 40% below 1990 levels – and to be successful we need to start aiming for that target now.

Remember why clean air and a healthy climate matter

There will be important policy to discuss in the coming weeks, but for now let us remember why we are pressing forward on climate and clean air legislation in the first place.

California has many communities that suffer disproportionately from poor air quality caused by major emitters. As someone who grew up in South Los Angeles, I understand the impact dangerous air pollution has on daily life. Like much of San Joaquin Valley, many of California’s most vulnerable communities struggle with some of the worst air quality in the country. More must urgently be done to deal with this public health crisis.

At the same time, all of California, and indeed the world, are facing the unprecedented threat of global climate change. This demands immediate and prolonged action, especially now.

That’s why we must continue California’s renowned climate leadership and pass – as soon as possible – legislation like AB 378 that can provide solutions for both local air pollution and global climate change.

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California carbon auction sells out after auctions upheld by appeals court, allowances sell above the floor

Tower Bridge in Sacramento. Photo: public domain via pixabay.

Auction results from the May California-Quebec carbon auction showed increased demand after a California Court of Appeal upheld the legality of California’s auction design last month.

These auction results should send a clear message to legislators that California has a strong carbon market design that can weather legal challenges and the inevitable bumps of the political process.

They also indicate it’s high time to extend, adapt, and strengthen the cap-and-trade program as the backbone of California’s effort to meet its ambitious 2030 target – something the California legislature has an opportunity to do by June 15 in concert with the governor’s budget.

Results from the May 16 auction

  • The auction offered more than 75 million current vintage allowances (available for 2017 or later compliance) and all of them sold at a price of $13.80, 23 cents above the minimum floor price. This is the first time the auction has cleared above the floor since November of 2015.
  • Allowances held by the utilities, Quebec, and ARB sold with over $500 million expected for California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF).
  • Almost 10 million future allowances were offered that will not be available for use until 2020 or later; a little over 2 million of those allowances sold. This is significantly higher than the 600,000 that sold in February but future allowances tend to have the most variability in demand.

Demand increased significantly from February, but why?

1. The market has clearly reacted positively by increasing demand in the wake of the Court of Appeals ruling. The appeal to the California Supreme Court and uncertainty about cap-and-trade’s future after 2020 may still be impacting market behavior, however.

2. Regulated businesses need a certain number of allowances to cover their emissions. Demand for allowances is in part driven by this simple reality, and since businesses have been laying low the last few auctions, it makes sense they would need to buy allowances this quarter. Economist Chris Busch describes why these “market fundamentals” led him to predict that at least 50-65 million allowances would be sold in this auction.

3. The stabilizing forces built into California’s program prevent big price swings when the market reacts to new developments. We can see this through California’s private secondary market, which shows daily allowance prices, and acts as a kind of barometer for how and whether the market is reacting to particular events. For example, after the California Court of Appeal on April 6 upheld the legality of California’s auction design, prices on the secondary market went up by 54 cents. When the California state senate on May 1 introduced SB 775, which would have overhauled the current cap-and-trade program and eliminated the auction allowances after 2020, the market dipped by roughly 20 cents – but recovered May 10 after the bill did not come up for a vote as anticipated. This means price shifts have been very small – mostly less than one dollar.

What will happen in the auctions if the legislature extends the cap-and-trade program?

An extension of the cap-and-trade program would lead to more robust demand for allowances — leading to a rising allowance price that better reflects the cost of a ton of carbon pollution reductions, taking into account the 2030 target that was put into law last year. With the price likely rising above the floor, we would expect to see future auctions being fully subscribed — translating into significantly more revenue for the GGRF to invest in projects that reduce carbon pollution.

Some observers have painted a dire picture of allowance prices spiking overnight. But that’s not how we’ve seen carbon markets behave in the past — and there’s no reason to think it will happen now. Instead, we’d expect a gradual strengthening of the allowance price over time, as compliance entities weighed the current price of allowances against the anticipated cost of reducing emissions in the future as the cap becomes more ambitious.

What’s more, the system already has a number of design features in place to protect against such a surge in prices, including offsets, the ability to draw on allowances “banked” from previous years, and a reserve pool of allowances (the “allowance price containment reserve”) that would be released into the market if prices rise high enough.

The governor is pushing hard for a deal on cap and trade by the budget deadline of June 15, so I’m hopeful the next auction will give us much to celebrate.

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California’s cap-and-trade program doesn't need an overhaul

(Source: cropped photo from Flickr/ Zoe-Rochelle)

Today Senator Bob Wieckowski, supported by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, proposed what amounts to a complete overhaul of California’s cap-and-trade program after 2020 in amendments to SB 775.

Pro Tem de Leon in particular has been a tireless champion of effective climate policies that are benefiting California’s communities and making the state a global leader on climate action. California would not be where it is today without his leadership especially on investments in disadvantaged communities and strong renewable and energy efficiency targets. This particular proposal, however, contains provisions that risk undermining the enormous progress the state has made.

Rather than scrapping the current system and starting over with an unproven approach, the state should build on success, keeping what is working well while strengthening the program by doing more to address local air pollution and environmental justice.

With President Trump seeking to take the country in reverse, California’s leadership is needed now more than ever. We can – and must – forge a post-2020 program that benefits communities in the state while leveraging progress here at home to spur greater ambition globally.

What’s at risk in this bill?

We still need to do a full assessment on the language of the bill, which was amended today on the Senate floor, but we know certain key policies are at risk:

  • Setting a hard ceiling on allowance prices, without any provision to ensure that California would meet its climate targets if that price ceiling were exceeded, opens a loophole that could undermine the program’s environmental integrity and California’s climate leadership. While the specific price ceiling envisioned in the bill is high enough that it may not be triggered, it represents an approach that is counter to the signature feature of the cap-and-trade program: the guarantee that California will meet its emission target.
  • This price ceiling also supplants a carefully designed cost-containment system that has operated effectively and works in harmony with California’s environmental goals. For example, this bill would prohibit firms from banking allowances, denying them a key source of flexibility that allows them to reduce emissions at the lowest possible cost over time. The bill would also ban the use of offsets, which help California achieve high integrity, hard-to-reach reductions outside the cap while keeping costs under the cap in-check and extending California’s climate diplomacy.
  • This bill could put California’s existing and future partnerships and linkages at risk by overhauling California’s approach to cap-and-trade and then asking partners to quickly fall in line. International linkages strengthen California’s leadership position and allow the state to leverage its program to spur greater ambition globally. Turning inward now would cede global leadership just when the world needs it most.

Today’s proposal is just one step in the complex legislative process, not a final bill proposal. Decision makers must balance many policy priorities as they navigate how to extend California’s cap-and-trade program. We believe there is plenty of room to adapt and strengthen California’s policy package while hewing to the framework that has served California well in reducing carbon pollution so far.

How California can chart a path to a strong cap-and-trade extension

California’s cap-and-trade program is working to bring carbon pollution down while the economy thrives. Even with this success, we recognize California needs to be doing more to address the very serious air pollution issues in local, environmental justice communities. EDF is committing to working on this with legislative leadership and our partners to ensure that the air is safe for all Californians to breathe wherever they live, while recognizing that climate policy – which affects issues as serious as our access to water – is critical to our continued future.

California needs policies that – in addition to improving local air quality – will continue to build on the successful reductions of GHG emissions; secure national and international partnerships vital to the state’s progress as a climate leader; and continue to support strong economic growth.

Rather than a wholesale change of a program that is meeting its goals, we should preserve what’s working and strengthen the parts that aren’t doing enough by designing and implementing policies that will directly improve air quality, especially in environmental justice communities.

This Senate bill comes as Governor Brown is urging the Legislature to pass an extension through the budget process with a two-thirds vote, and after two proposals introduced into the Assembly on how to extend the cap-and-trade program.

It is important that the Senate has now entered this debate and is recognizing the importance of passing a cap-and-trade extension with a supermajority vote. EDF looks forward to working with Senator Wieckowski, President Pro Tem de Leon, Assembly leaders, the Governor, and other stakeholders as California charts a path to a strong post-2020 climate policy.

With the Trump Administration abandoning its leadership role on climate at home and on the international stage, it is more important than ever that California continues to model successful climate policy that ensures that the state will meet its ambitious carbon pollution reduction targets, while promoting better local air quality and supporting a thriving economy.

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California-Quebec carbon market participants appear to wait for future auctions and more information

California cap and trade, renewable energy

California's Alta Wind Energy Center, Image Source: flickr

Carbon auction results released today show low demand for California’s carbon allowances in the first carbon auction of 2017, with only 18% of allowances selling.

The results say more about the many milestones that are ahead for the cap-and-trade program rather than anything about the cap-and-trade program’s core function of reducing overall emissions.

Results from the February 22 auction show:

  • The auction offered more than 65 million current vintage allowances (available for 2016 or later compliance) and sold about 11.6 million. Most of these allowances were utility-held allowances and some were from the province of Quebec. No ARB current allowances sold.
  • Almost 10 million future allowances were offered that will not be available for use until 2020 or later; a little over 600,000 of those allowances sold.
  • This means only about $8 million was raised for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

Why cap and trade is working

Auction results themselves cannot tell us whether cap-and-trade is “working.” Though selling most allowances offered at stable prices at or above the minimum or floor price is generally a good sign, the reverse does not necessarily indicate that something went wrong with the cap-and-trade program itself. Disappointing auction result could simply be a product of the market’s expectation that more information on which to make an investment decision and plenty of allowances will be available in the future.

The best indicator is whether greenhouse gas emissions are declining.

The best indicator of whether California’s climate policies, including cap and trade, are working is whether greenhouse gas emissions are declining. As we reported in November’s auction blog, all indications suggest California’s policies are reducing emissions.

Another important factor is whether California’s economy continues to thrive as the state implements some of the most ambitious climate policies in the world. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2016, California continued to add jobs faster than the national average, as it has in every year that cap and trade has been in place.

So what explains current low demand

Outstanding litigation brought by the California Chamber of Commerce and others challenging California’s cap-and-trade program design is likely still hampering sales of allowances and negatively affecting the auction, as many participants may be waiting to see how the Court of Appeals rules on the legality of carbon market auctions. Oral Arguments were held in late January and a decision is likely by the end of April.

At the same time, Governor Brown in January asked the Legislature to extend the cap and trade program beyond 2020 with a two-thirds vote; the supermajority vote, also recommended by the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, could insulate the cap-and-trade program from legal challenges like the one brought by the Chamber. Two bills currently in the Assembly – AB 378 (C. Garcia) and AB 151 (Burke) – could both facilitate the extension of cap and trade and be passed with a two-thirds vote. But we are still early in this process and the market is clearly still waiting to see how the Legislation plays out.

What we can understand from California’s February carbon auction

  • Regulated businesses under the cap-and-trade program will have to purchase a large portion of available allowances in order to comply with the cap-and-trade program requirements. It appears they have just decided to deploy the wait-and-see strategy they utilized in May and August, perhaps hoping for more information perhaps in advance of the next auction.
  • One thing that is different between this auction and the May auction that also saw similarly low demand, allowances prices on the secondary market were quite close to the current floor price of $13.57. This means that entities are still valuing carbon allowances close to the floor price, showing expectations of a steady market in the future, there just wasn’t quite enough demand to soak up all the supply in this auction.
  • The November auction when 88% of allowances sold was the last time participants were able to buy allowances for $12.73 at auction instead of the 2017 floor price of $13.57.  This opportunity for lower cost allowances seems to explain the higher demand in November.
  • Importantly, the ARB allowances that went unsold represent a temporary tightening of the cap. They will not be offered again until two auctions have fully sold all available current allowances. This is an important self-regulating design feature of the cap-and-trade program that helps stabilize prices in the face of inevitable market fluctuations in supply and demand.

What to expect from 2017 auctions

Two major developments this spring may provide more certainty about the post-2020 cap-and-trade program, which we’ve noted before could significantly increase auction demand. First, there will likely be a decision from the appeals court on the California Chamber of Commerce case. There could also be more clarity on the bill or package of bills that could move through the Legislature this year.

The core functions of the cap-and-trade program are operating as intended, reducing carbon emissions while the economy thrives.  But it remains to be seen whether the Legislature will be able to act to provide the highest level of certainty for the cap-and-trade market.

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