In a repeat of criticism from last year, lawmakers were told there was “a very real risk” that the cap and trade program would not meet the greenhouse gas targets of the California. The State Air Board is revising the program.
Lawmakers today debated the Newsom administration’s long-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gases, with some experts reiterating their common refrain that parts of California’s cap and trade program are deeply defective.
A panel of experts and the Office of the Legislative Analyst told lawmakers in a Senate hearing what they’ve heard before: the market-based cap-and-trade program that California is in. pushing to do the heavy lifting to reduce pollutants that cause global warming is unlikely to meet the targets set. State 2030 goals.
The current cap-and-trade design presents “a very real risk” that California’s next set of carbon reduction targets will not be met, said Ross Brown of the Office of the Nonpartisan Legislative Analyst.
The State Air Resources Board is currently revising its climate roadmap, known as the scoping plan. The air board will receive an update on the revisions on Thursday, with a draft expected to be unveiled this spring.
“The problem we’re all dancing with is that we have a framing plan that says most of the work will be done by cap and trade,” said Danny Cullenward, economist and vice-chairman of the Independent Market Advisory Board. emissions. “We don’t have a cap and trade program that is able to do that at the moment.”
The panel publishes an annual report on cap and trade, which makes recommendations to the air commission and the legislature. The group, as it has done in previous years, noted fundamental problems: overestimating the emission reductions produced by cap and trade and underestimating the number of pollution credits the system allows companies to hoard.
Sen. Bob Wieckowski, who chairs the subcommittee that held the hearing, asked heated questions, reminding administration officials that some key issues remain. “This is not a new debate,” the Fremont Democrat said. He has repeatedly pressed the air board, known as CARB, to be more transparent and less defensive on cap and trade.
“CARB says, ‘We’re staying the course,'” Wieckowski said. “I hope the board will take the recommendations to heart and look at some of these issues. »
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The historic cap-and-trade system that lets polluters buy credits to offset their emissions has been the centerpiece of California’s climate change policies for a decade — and a lightning rod for critics ever since. Environmental justice advocates cap and trade as a mechanism to allow pollution to continue in deprived communities near refineries and other major polluters.
Administration officials dodged pointed questions from senators, who wanted deadlines and promises of Air Board Chair Liane Randolph and Environmental Protection Secretary Jared Blumenfeld.
Randolph assured the committee that all aspects of cap and trade and other programs were being reviewed and would be evaluated. She said the final scoping plan would be ready in the fall.
Regarding flaws in the fundamental design of cap and trade, Randolph said that while there is always room for improvement, the air board may have to “agree to disagree ” with some of the critics. Blumenfeld was less firm, calling the adviser’s report “thought-provoking” and said some analysis and modeling “needs to be tightened up.”
The final scoping plan, he said, “might show that cap and trade needn’t play such a large role.”
Much of Wednesday’s hearing focused on the murky issue of the allowance bank: Under the cap-and-trade system, major polluters such as oil refineries and power plants must either produce less greenhouse gases to comply with California’s emissions caps, or buy credits to offset their excess. emissions from companies that reduce their emissions.
Credits are traded at state-sanctioned auctions and in secondary markets. And the state gives it free to public utilities, natural gas suppliers and industries vulnerable to external competition. The number of free allowances was estimated to be about half of the total, according to Dallas Burtraw, who chairs the advisory committee.
Some companies haven’t yet needed to use allowances to stay within state emissions limits and likely won’t have to in the next two years, some analysts say; the advisory group estimated that there were about 321 million credits in the bank, about twice what regulators had expected.
“We find that the size of the bank is greater than an annual allocation of new allocations,” Burtraw said. “The optics of that are difficult.”
The result is a glut of credits that could allow companies to continue polluting beyond state limits in subsequent years after the overall cap becomes more restrictive. Some estimates suggest that the accumulated credits are equal to one year of pollution from regulated industries.
Blumenfeld said the Air Board will submit an analysis of the credit banking system to the legislature by the end of 2023.
But, unless the oversupply is dealt with quickly, experts say polluters will have no incentive to reduce emissions to required levels by 2030; instead, industries could continue to pollute and use spare allowances to offset their emissions and keep them technically below the cap.
The Office of the Legislative Analyst predicted this calculation five years ago, estimating that due to excess allowances, actual emissions could exceed the state’s goal by 30% by 2030.
Brown of the Office of the Legislative Analyst suggested lawmakers may want to pursue the issue of stipends and “ask the administration if the stipend bank poses a real risk.”
He also targeted Blumenfeld’s timeline for the Air Board’s report on the allowance bank at the end of next year, indicating it may be too late to make changes in time to meet targets. of 2030.