The results of California and Quebec’s latest carbon auction show that an ongoing lawsuit challenging the cap-and-trade program’s allowance auctions is likely impacting market dynamics, but that California’s market is proving resilient, in part due to the strength of its design.
The May 18 auction, the second of 2016, offered 67,675,951 current vintage allowances (available for 2016 compliance) and sold only 7,260,000. Just under one million of the just over ten million future vintage allowances (available for use in 2019 and after) were sold. The unsold California state allowances will go back to the auction holding account and will not be available for sale until the auction clears above the floor price for two consecutive auctions, a critical regulatory feature that removes unexpected, excess supply from the market and provides further price support. Utility allowances that were consigned to auction and did not sell will be offered again for sale at the next auction.
Increased attention to the litigation brought by the California Chamber of Commerce and the Morning Star Packing Co. et al., as well as higher participation in the secondary market, caused lower demand for allowances in the May auction. Secondary market prices have traded as low as 44 cents below the floor price in the last couple of months. But the real story is the positive and stabilizing impact of the floor price itself.
Other markets without such a strong floor price have seen price drops that are much more dramatic when the market receives a disturbance. But in California, the volume of trades on the secondary market has been higher than usual, showing that some entities are taking the opportunity to buy allowances at a discount.
It's worth noting that these results in no way impact the overall performance of California's program, which will continue to incentivize carbon pollution reductions.
EDF’s take on the litigation of the cap-and-trade auction program’s legality
At this critical juncture, opponents continue to litigate and challenge carbon auctions, an integral component of the cap-and-trade program that promotes equity and a healthy carbon market.
We are confident, however, that California courts will ultimately confirm the Legislature’s broad grant of authority to the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to design effective programs to address the imminent threat of climate change, and will reject the claim that auctioning valuable, marketable emission allowance constitutes an unconstitutional “tax.”
In supplemental briefings submitted May 23 to the California court, ARB argued persuasively that, even if the intermediate appellate court were to find a legal flaw in the auction, there would be no valid legal justification for disrupting the cap-and-trade program including its auction components while the state Supreme Court considers the case or ARB develops a suitable solution. This outcome is well-grounded in legal precedent affirming courts’ obligation to avoid remedies that imperil public health and welfare or cause needless disruption to public and private interests that rely on the current status quo.
California’s ability to continue utilizing a cap-and-trade program designed to meet its needs through 2020 and beyond is essential to California and to global climate momentum.
While EDF has a high degree of confidence that the lower court decision rejecting the challengers’ claims will be upheld, even if it is not, settled judicial procedures should help to ensure that the environmentally and economically important cap-and-trade program continues with minimal disruption.
California’s ability to continue utilizing a cap-and-trade program that is designed to best meet the state’s needs through 2020 and beyond is essential not just to California itself, but also to global climate momentum.
We’re at a watershed moment for climate action, and California is at the forefront. The U.S., China, and 173 other countries signed the Paris Agreement last month, and a group of leaders convened by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund expressed a goal of moving from 12% to 50% of global carbon emissions covered by carbon pricing by 2030. All the while, California is providing one of the most successful examples of economy-wide carbon pricing that is reducing emissions and promoting equity while the state’s economy is thriving.
There is every reason for confidence both in the legality of CARB’s choice to auction allowances and in the commitment of California’s leaders to deliver on California’s climate goals. We expect that a resilient cap-and-trade program will remain at the heart of the state’s increasingly ambitious and effective climate strategy long into the future.