Posts Tagged ‘carbon dioxide’

Cap and delay; the chromium tide. A mid-summer Smogtown roundup

Monday, July 18th, 2011

* California/West Coast greenhouse gas cap and trade on hold until 2013. Big surprise, here. The idea is controversial, poorly understood, largely unproven and being implemented during a historic election. Got juice?

- L.A. Times coverage:

“Facing continued litigation, California officials will delay enforcement of the state’s carbon-trading program until 2013, state Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols announced Wednesday. The delay in the cap-and-trade program, slated to take effect in January, is proposed because of the “need for all necessary elements to be in place and fully functional,” she said. But in testimony before a state Senate committee,Nichols said the postponement would not affect the stringency of the program or the amount of greenhouse gases that industries will be forced to cut by the end of the decade. Carbon-market executives mostly shrugged at the news. The air board “has given firms a breather, not a pass,” said Josh Margolis, chief executive of CantorCO2e, an emissions-trading company. “Companies will need to make the same reductions, but they will face a steeper slope.” The cap-and-trade program, championed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a centerpiece of the state’s landmark effort to cut planet-warming gases to 1990 levels by 2020. It accounts for a fifth of the planned cuts under the state’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act. Under the program, 600 industrial facilities, including cement manufacturers, electrical plants and oil refineries, would cap their emissions in 2012, with that limit gradually decreasing over eight years. Several neighborhood organizations and environmental justice groups that focus on local pollution are fighting the program in court, saying it would allow industrial plants to avoid installing the strictest pollution controls. A San Francisco judge ruled in March that the air board had not sufficiently analyzed alternatives to the trading program, as required under California’s Environmental Quality Act. The agency appealed the decision, and an appeals court ruled last week that officials could continue working on the regulation pending the court decision. The board is drafting an analysis of alternatives, which is to be considered for adoption Aug. 24, Nichols said … In the wake of the failure of national climate legislation in Congress last year, California’s program would be North America’s biggest carbon market, three times larger than a utility-only system in the northeastern U.S. By 2016, about $10 billion in carbon allowances are expected to be traded through the California market, which is slated to link to similar markets in several Canadian provinces …”

* Chromium-six polluting L.A. County’s wells in addition to local cities. No cause for panic, but one for focused alarm.

- From the L.A. Daily News:

“The tap water in at least four Los Angeles County facilities, including two in Lancaster, has levels of contaminants such as arsenic and lead that exceed federal and state recommendations, according to a new county report released Thursday. The study by the county Department of Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures looked at the drinking water in 765 county facilities, including county jails, fire stations and wells. While it found that several hundred facilities had detectable levels of contaminants such as chromium 6, arsenic and lead, four of them were above the “maximum contaminant level” set by state and federal agencies. Those sites included Challenger Memorial Youth Center and a county-owned well at a trailer park, both in Lancaster. The report was the first time in 10 years that such an evaluation of water quality at county facilities was undertaken. County officials said that while they take the findings seriously, they urged the public not to panic … Of the 765 county facilities that were tested, about 43 percent exceeded the state’s “public health goal” for hexavalent chromium, 84 percent exceeded the PHG for arsenic, while 31 percent exceeded the PHG for lead. But officials said that public health goal is a very conservative target and failing to meet it does not necessarily mean the water is dangerous. Of greater concern are the facilities that exceeded the “maximum contaminant level” for certain pollutants. The study detected concentrations of arsenic at 70.4 parts per billion – seven times the federal and state maximum contaminant level – in samples from a restroom faucet at Challenger. It also found that Challenger, and several other facilities, had high levels of hexavalent chromium — aka chromium 6 — a heavy metal that gained notoriety in the film “Erin Brockovich.” The juvenile facility was found to have 12.2 ppb of hexavalent chromium. State officials have yet to set a maximum contaminant level for that particular chemical, but they said the “public health goal” is 0.2 ppb … ”

* Speaking of pollution victims, few place can lay claim like Kettleman, California. Looks like the natives are taking matters into their own hands now, and there’s real parallels to anguished mother in the early days of L.A.’s smog fight.

- From the L.A. Times story:

“Central and Southern California community groups filed a complaint about toxic waste dumps with the Environmental Protection Agency 17 years ago and never received a response. Tired of waiting, they have filed a federal lawsuit … Kettleman City, Buttonwillow and rural areas of Imperial County are home to the only toxic waste dumps in the state. Grassroots community groups say that locating the dumps only in low-income and predominantly Latino areas violates Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits any recipient of federal money from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin …”

MISC.

* Don’t even get us going on how disingenuous until now the state’s efforts at popularizing solar power has been with homeowners. Progress now, or perhaps the truth bubble emerging of people’s hunger to do more than themselves? You decide.

- From the L.A. Daily News:

“Due to public demand, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power canceled a single public meeting about its solar energy programs and replaced it with four workshops, the utility announced today …”

- The big boys are already reaping the savings, though. Thank God for Google. It just created a $280 pocket change fund. Link

* Some things never change: a conservative group trying to undercut hard-won environmental rules, state by state. They have fans, too. Link

The saga of Anne Sholtz and Rep. Joe Barton and a little hardware

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Texas Congressman Joe Barton, along with fellow Republican Greg Walden, last year pressured the Justice Dept. to release documents on the secretive prosecution of former high-flying, emissions-broker Anne Sholtz. Barton, a global warming skeptic and longtime champion of big oil, made news again recently for his comments that the federal mandate for BP to set aside $20 billion for cleanup of the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill amounted to a “slush fund” and shakedown. Guess what? He was forced to apologize.

Washington Post story on his outburst, which was curious to say the least. Here’s the official contrition from him in an MSNBC update.

I’m just wondering when Barton will get around to explaining why he and House lawyers and investigators were chomping at the bit to learn more about Sholtz and what her air pollution-exchange scandal says about a  possible greenhouse gas cap-and-trade, when a national energy/climate bill was on the front burner, and why he’s allowed it slip from it from his political consciousness now that the bill’s propsects faded.  Could it be Barton’s entire reasoning was to slam Obama, via California, and shield the petroleum sectors? Naw, couldn’t be.

In any event, my story on Sholtz — and it’s contexualized and expanded in our book Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles – won gold in the Southern California Journalism Awards Sunday night. I dislike even mentioning this, because I am ambivalent about subjective honors, but in this case I make an exception because after all these years, there is still more heat than light about the Sholtz caper and Barton’s real motives, let alone why the Justice Dept. handled her the way it did and all that CIA stuff.

Does the Climate Bill Have A Chance?

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Here’s my little Op-Ed on the lessons of former emissions broker Anne Sholtz, who defrauded the very smog cap-and-trade she helped concoct. We write about her spectacular and alarming escapades at length, as well as about L.A.’s air pollution market, in Smogtown: the Lung Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

“In the toxic air of Los Angeles is a primer on human nature as we debate a national cap-and-trade for greenhouse gases.

During the 1990’s, Southern California manufacturers, weary of decades of stern regulation, wanted a new way to shrink their emissions of sky-smudging, health-damaging oxides of nitrogen and sulfur. Their answer was the planet’s first smog cap-and-trade system. Its name was awkward — the Regional Clean Air Incentives Market, or Reclaim — but its implications seismic. Industry finally had flexibility in achieving its cuts, and a motive to reduce more than their yearly pollution cap. They could sell unneeded “credits” for profit!

Though environmentalists caterwauled about corporate sellout, the anti-smog officials were on board. For years, they’d been sandwiched between federal clean air mandates and industry accusations that they had crippled the region’s manufacturing muscle with overzealous rulemaking. Why not allow the market to be the magic?

Leading this vanguard environmentalism was Anne Masters Sholtz, a 30-something Caltech economics professor and aspiring emissions-broker. Her brokerage, which used the Web and advanced software to match trades, lined up heavyweight clients and enlisted marquee financial institutions as trade clearinghouses. Sholtz bought a spectacular hillside estate, won niche celebrity, and had a seemingly blue-sky future in the mecca of whiskey-brown air.

The problem is the system was vulnerable. During California’s electricity brownouts in 2000 and 2001, speculators made a killing off the boutique, $90-million-a-year market by hoarding credits the utilities needed to run full time. By then, Sholtz had twice fleeced the system.

In 1996, she misappropriated roughly $2 million in credits belonging to Chevron, then Mobil Corporation and another client and sold them to Southern California Edison. A few years later Sholtz lulled another client, a New York-based trading outfit called A.G. Clean Air, into believing she owned credits the company needed to complete a lucrative trade with Mobil. In truth the credits weren’t available.

Predictably, local regulators were in the dark about both episodes until industry complained to them. As her case illustrates, and Europe’s cap-and-trade scandals corroborates, even the best-intentioned oversight is laps behind sophisticated schemers, be they full timers or just desperate like Sholtz. Concoct a market anywhere, whether for beads or subprime mortgages, and they’ll show up.

Two House Republicans today are moving to unseal court records of Sholtz’s federal prosecution in a ham-fisted effort to hurt President Obama’s chances for a carbon market. If there’s chicanery with smog, imagine a trillion-dollar greenhouse market, they say. But the Sholtz case is too important for politicization, because global warming is a global threat now.

I’m against Obama’s plans because a more straightforward carbon levy seems more cost-effective and less contrived. Yet cap-and-trades can work, as they generally have in L.A., as long as we remember that to make a commodity out of something is to arouse temptation.”

To read the entire New York Times “Room for Debate” online forum, click here.

Here’s the link to my last story about Sholtz and L.A.’s cap-and-trade. It’s a tale of environmental fraud and foreign intrigue unlike any others.

Carbon cap and fade: questions all around

Monday, December 28th, 2009

The new year could well ignite fireworks anew over the Anne Sholtz caper, a story we showcase in our book Smogtown and in Chip’s freelance articles about her intriguing case. It’s a tangled, air-pollution market story involving fraud, red flags, the CIA, a secretive prosecution and much more, with sticky lessons for the carbon market Pres. Obama wants enacted nationally. So far officials at Southern California’s smog-fighting agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, hasn’t wanted to acknowledge that their cap-and-trade, known acronymistically as RECLAIM, has been vulnerable to white-collar troubles, and the U.S. Dept. of Justice-L.A. office still probably wishes their mixed-bag prosecution of Sholtz went the way of Compuserve. As George Bush I would say, “Not gonna happen.” Probably.

From the Wall St. Journal/Dow Jones New Service story:

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- U.S. legislators have obtained a court order unsealing documents in a case involving a multi-million-dollar cap-and-trade fraud.

Republican legislators say the records–due to be opened to the public in early January–could shed light on the potential challenges of policing a new, trillion-dollar commodities market that would be created under climate legislation that Congress is considering.

In a rare filing by House lawyers, Reps. Joe Barton (R., Texas) and Greg Walden (R., Ore.), the ranking members respectively of the Energy Committee and the Oversight Subcommittee, asked a federal district court in California to unseal all the closed records regarding the successful prosecution for fraud of Anne Masters Sholtz, a former California Institute of Technology economist.

Lawmakers say Sholtz’s case could expose the weaknesses of a federal cap-and- trade system because it involved the same market mechanism meant to cut emissions …”

Be forewarned there are a lot of errors in these Republicans’ understanding of Sholtz’s case. It involved cap and trade for two smog-forming chemicals unrelated to global warming, and did NOT involve counterfeit credits. However, the federal case against Sholtz did NOT even mention an earlier action involving 500,000 in RECLAIM credits that allegedly bankrolled a CIA-associated currency repatriation effort. See here for that.

For more on this story, here is Rep. Barton’s comments about it and the judicial order lifting the veil of secrecy thrown over many of the case’s key documents.

Meanwhile, some European shenanigans … story link

“The top cops in Europe say carbon-trading has fallen prey to an organized crime scheme that has robbed the continent of $7.4 billion — a massive fraud that lawmakers and energy experts say should send a “red flag” to the U.S., where the House approved cap-and-trade legislation over the summer amid stiff opposition.

In a statement released last week, the Europol police agency said Europe’s cap-and-trade system has been the victim of organized crime during the past 18 months, resulting in losses of roughly $7.4 billion. The agency, headquartered in the Netherlands, estimated that in some countries up to 90 percent of the entire market volume was caused by fraudulent activities.

“These criminal activities endanger the credibility of the European Union Emission Trading System and lead to the loss of significant tax revenue for governments,” Rob Wainwright, Europol’s director, said in a statement …”

How the smog cap-and-trade turns (a soap opera) and, finally, some encouraging GW developments

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

joe-barton-jpeg-lasmogtownco

On the same day that California unveiled details of its proposed West Coast cap-and-trade to attack greenhouse gases, two House Republicans vehemently opposed to President Obama’s national greenhouse-gas cap-and-trade announced they convinced the U.S. Department of Justice to unseal many of the documents in the enigmatic case of former-hotshot pollution broker Anne Sholtz. Barton and Walden had been pressing for answers about the case from the Justice Department for months now, igniting a whole bunch of behind the scenes activity and rather long-winded and vague regulatory defenses from the regional South Coast Air Quality Management District, which oversees the RECLAIM cap-and-trade for oxides of nitrogen and sulfur, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the district’s progress against smog. RECLAIM, short for the Regional Clean Air Incentives Market, began in 1993 as the planet’s first of its kind.

In those letters, which I’ll dig up later, the AQMD insists its systems are essentially scam-proof and the agency does seem to have a good regulatory track record if not for the Sholtz case and the rampant speculation that nearly detonated the market with spiking prices during California’s 2000 and 20001 electricity blackouts — the ones that exposed the likes of Enron’s. Curiously, the AQMD board is still waiting to fully hear an explanation of what occurred, so I’m told. Do the individual members even know about Sholtz’s alleged (but uncharged) misappropriation in mid-1998 of some 500,000 RECLAIM credits from Chevron, Exxon and Aera Corp. that she later sold to Southern California Edison? And how she poured the proceeds form that un-noticed transaction into a daring, alarming and apparently unsuccessful effort — code named “Operation Bald Headed Eagle” — to extract millions of dollars worth of cash, gold, and bonds of former U.S. aid to the Philippines using a cache of CIA and military Special Ops personnel, with supposed diplmomatic immunity no less?

The EPA, meantime, says it’s on top of RECLAIM and that, as of this summer, had no active investigations into any emissions markets anywhere in the country.

All in all it’s a complex, provocative story, one fraught with policy implications and headscratching human behavior, with spy-book sidelines and institutional hubris, and the charge in D.C. to get the lowdown on this now-closed criminal fraud case, in our opinion, is pretty nakedly political.

But wouldn’t it be something if Rep. Joe Barton of Texas (picture above) and Greg Walden of Oregon proved us wrong with a sincere, nonpartisan investigation into:

* how Sholtz TWICE gamed the system she helped concoct?

* why the AQMD and EPA failed to stop her sooner, and nobody at either agency seems very accountable?

* why the Justice Dept. has acted so secretly and oddly in this matter, apparently never following up on Sholtz’s explosive whistleblower tips once she was in custody?

* and how widespread the supposed-CIA and national security types Sholtz worked with in one cap-and-trade-financed “venture” have penetrated situations like this, and why there seems so little interest in probing whether we have a mini-Iran-Contra playing out while we all figured that was so 1980s of the Oliver North dimension?

I know. Click your heels three times and you’ll land in Kansas faster than the answers come here.

Here’s the link to Barton and Walden’s announcement. At the bottom are links to the motion and background documents, which I encourage the interested to read carefully. This was not some flimsy legal effort. It was surgical and well-researched.

If you want a more colorful and detailed look at the Anne Sholtz caper, please read my story, which ran in August in three different publications (before a bunch of blogs snatched ‘em). Here’s the definitive link to “Air of Deceit.”‘

The Hill, which covers the Capitol, has this brief story about the Barton-Walden initiative to get these secret records released.

“Senior Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are looking to a closed federal wire fraud conviction in California to bolster their argument against climate legislation.

Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), the senior Republican on the committee, and Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), the top Republican on the committee’s oversight panel, have asked a federal court to unseal documents in the 2005 conviction surrounding a California pollution credit trading program. Barton calls the case a cautionary tale about setting up a massive nationwide carbon emissions trading market.

The two Republicans, who filed a motion Monday in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, want the pleadings unsealed in the case of Anne Masters Sholtz, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to one count of wire fraud following a six-count federal indictment for trying to game a Los Angeles-area pollution abatement initiative …”

In other news:

A somewhat predictable shift in American public opinion about global warming. Washington Post story

President Obama is not going to Copenhagen empty handed. He’s vowing to push for U.S. reductions in a bid to persuade the world, particularly India and China, to get serious as well. From the L.A. Times story

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Let’s remember what’s important when we return from the break. It’s called sincerity.

Puff (as in particulates) and stuff (as in melting icesheets) and burying CO-2

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

la-smoggy-skyline-from-msnbc

Los Angeles’ cancer alley – an un-love story of vulnerable lungs, put-upon people and a globalized transhipment mecca that coughs out our biggest air pollution threat. There’s a new environmental justice army (well, sort of new) tackling the issue.  From today’s fine L.A. Times story:

” … Eight years ago, he ran into an old friend at a sweatshop protest in a Glendale mall: Gilbert Estrada was working on a master’s thesis on highway building through East L.A.’s Mexican neighborhoods. They traded tales of aching chests from air pollution, of chemical spills that sparked evacuations in elementary school, and of playing around 55-gallon drums marked with skulls and crossbones …”

And in case you thought smog was now our the green version of a red-headed stepchild, check out this story about the Obama White House and EPA reviewing an important ozone standard.  MSNBC reports.

Is it really possible to keep greenhouse gases from even hitting the air? A New York Times story looks at one model.

“Poking out of the ground near the smokestacks of the Mountaineer power plant here are two wells that look much like those that draw natural gas to the surface. But these are about to do something new: inject a power plant’s carbon dioxide into the earth …”

Plus, a GW call for world unity. How’s that working out? Link (from N.Y. Times) Could be the issue of our time.

 Miscellany:

Green propoganda, corporate-style, from Newsweek:

“… Hotels are not the only offenders in this kind of petty green fakery. Environmentalism is “in” at the moment, and corporations feel great pressure to prove their credentials. But it’s not easy being green. Some companies, like those at the top of NEWSWEEK’s 2009 Green Rankings, have embraced conservation for real. They build headquarters with solar panels and rainwater collection systems; they think of the environmental impact of every aspect of their businesses and actually change the way they do things to reduce waste. But this is labor intensive, often expensive, and takes commitment. Faced with that, many corporations take a different approach: They don’t do much of anything to change the way they do business, but make a big show of their dedication to Mother Earth …”

The mob gets in on the pollution racket. Like duh. From MSNBC.

” … Giordano said the former mobster, Francesco Fonti, from the Calabria-based ‘ndrangheta crime syndicate, has claimed the mob sank “hundreds” of barrels of illegally disposed of waste …”

Monday melange — President Obama’s greenhouse gas market/energy revolution debated, and new revelations about the toxic qualities of good, old smog

Monday, June 29th, 2009

factory-carbon-dioxide-jpeg-lasmogtown

From the L.A. Times story about the House’s passage of the so-called Waxman-Markey bill:

” … It’s the most important environmental and energy legislation in our nation’s history,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “A huge achievement.”

Passage is far from certain. Democrats are balking. Read this Wall St. Journal story.

But passage could prove trickier in the Senate, where many Democrats hail from coal, farm or factory states, and where the bill probably would need 60 votes to advance. The Senate product is likely to emerge from a combination of bills passed by the energy and the environment and public works committees, further complicating the negotiations.

After the House vote, Obama expressed confidence that the Senate would rise to the challenge, portraying the debate as one between supporters of the status quo and those who want to position the United States as a leader in the 21st century economy.

Less-aggressive climate bills have failed in the Senate in recent years, but Democratic leaders in the chamber have promised to move swiftly this year, debating a measure as early as September or October. And they cheered Friday’s vote as an important step.

How it’s supposed to all work: a Q&A

Smog and auto emissions and public health …

Fetal brains and carbon monoxide: the UCLA study.

Premature babies and freeway emissions: the story.

Air pollution and cancer risk. Link.

Greenhouse gas cap-and-trade part II: avoid handing out too many credits or you’ll achieve nothing

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

From the L.A. Times Op Ed by filmaker/activist Todd Darling:

” … USCAP’s carbon-trading plan, which became part of the Waxman-Markey plan, shares key details of the European system — most importantly, it gives 85% of the pollution credits to the biggest polluters for free.

The European experience shows the critical weakness of this plan. In Europe, the distribution of free pollution credits to industries failed to establish a strong carbon market. In turn, the weak market in carbon credits failed to generate the money needed to fund new technology. And because there was a glut of free credits, polluters that went over the emissions limit could buy the necessary credits cheaply. So important states, such as Britain, continue to exceed the pollution limits.

Faced with disappointing results, Europe began auctioning off more of the credits in 2006. But the damage was done. The arrival of the recession caused the “carbon price” to plummet further. Critics point at companies that cut back their production 20% — and therefore pollute 20% less because of the recession — and now sell their unused pollution credits to prop up their bottom line. Money that was supposed to be generated from pollution credits to fund clean technology goes elsewhere.

The complex European trading scheme, started with free pollution credits, has not produced dramatic cuts in pollution or dramatic developments in technology or a robust market in carbon credits. The Financial Times of London was blunt: “Carbon markets leave much room for unverifiable manipulation. [Carbon] taxes are better, partly because they are less vulnerable to such improprieties …”

Meanwhile, a majority of Americans support carbon-cutting, even if means higher energy costs, according to the Washington Post. The enthusiam wanes, though, when it comes to achieving emission cuts using cap-and-trade.

A big day for California, an immense one for the atmosphere (and those carbon-based units on Earth)!

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

la-freeway-traffic-ii-lasmogtown

New federal standards for m.p.g. and carbon dioxide tailpipe emissions grounded in California’s efforts.

L.A. Times story

“The agreement that the Obama administration will announce today forcing dramatic reductions in vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and improvements in auto mileage marks a potentially pivotal shift in the battle over global warming — and a vindication of California’s long battle to toughen standards.

After decades of political sparring, legal challenges and scientific arguments over climate change, three of the central players — the federal government, major U.S. automakers and California — have found that the time has come to suspend hostilities and make a deal.
For cars and trucks, the agreement would establish a single nationwide standard that would require a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide and other emissions from vehicles sold in the United States by 2016.

The new limits are projected to reduce U.S. oil consumption by about 5% a year. The nation currently uses about 7.1 billion barrels a year.

For its part, California will essentially accept the national standard as a substitute for the state’s own tough emission requirements. The Obama standard is designed to achieve the same level of emission cutbacks as the California rule, but automakers will be given more time to adapt.

Completing the three-way deal, automakers will pledge to drop their effort to block the California rules through legal challenges.

“Everybody wins,” said David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate center. “It’s going to cut carbon pollution. The drivers of these cars are going to save money at the pump. It’s going to cut our national oil dependence …”

New York Times story

In much less important news, here’s us talking about smog, global warming, pollution victims and LA dystopia during our Youtubed appearance at the Authors@Google program (a.k.a. “AtGoogleTalks”). Click here. Man, pretty harsh lights and angle, but a great crowd and a terrific platform.

While the stock market tanked and Obama Vs. McCain dominated the media, California, six western states and Canada moved closer to a bold greenhouse gas market

Monday, October 27th, 2008

It is arguably one of the biggest environmental sea-changes we’ve seen in a few decades, and well-worth public scrutiny and political eyeballing. In the campaign to roll back greenhouse gas emissions in California to 1990 levels, we’re relying on the power of green (the greenback that is) to bring more greening than typical rulemaking might accomplish.

From the Los Angeles Times story (link here)

The plan also relies on a complex trading system in which businesses can buy and barter their way out of trimming emissions. Europe has instituted a carbon market, but not without some controversy. And many economists say that a tax on carbon would be a more efficient way to reduce global warming … The initiative comes as studies suggest that climate change is taking a toll on the Western region of the U.S. and Canada. Scientists say that without dramatic cuts in the global burning of fossil fuels, Western states will suffer disproportionately from water shortages, severe wildfires, coastal flooding and species die-offs … The initiative calls for a cap on carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and have been blamed for raising temperatures around the globe. Industries would be granted fixed numbers of permits to pollute under the cap, and they could trade the permits among themselves so that reductions would be achieved in the cheapest way … If the proposed Western carbon market materializes, it would be half the size of Europe’s as U.S. financial markets are in turmoil. Some experts are predicting that the Wall Street meltdown will weaken support for a national cap and trade system because investment banks, which stand to profit from such trading, are among its strongest supporters … “This really ups the ante for Congress and the next administration,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, which is in the final stages of designing California’s climate program. “If all these states and provinces are saying they will actually cut emissions, where is the federal government?” …

Environmentalists applauded the initiative as a good start in addressing global warming, but expressed strong reservations about several key elements … California is moving toward auctioning a majority of greenhouse gas emission permits and using the money in part to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy such as solar and wind power. But officials involved in drafting the regional initiative said that allowing individual states broad discretion was a way to make the initiative more politically palatable in conservative areas … Another controversial aspect of the plan would permit industries to use “offsets” for up to 49% of the emissions they are required to cut. An offset, such as planting trees or capturing landfill emissions, could be cheaper than installing expensive equipment to cut fossil fuel burning or switching to cleaner power.

If this Western North American market gives you deja vu in its reach and its conception, it’s because Southern California rolled out one of the world’s first pollution markets in the early-1990s. Instead of working to diminish carbon dioxide, L.A. smog generals went after oxides of nitrogen and sulfur with RECLAIM. Not coincidentally, some of the same exact concerns environmentalists are expressing about the Western Climate Initiative mimic the ones earlier activists had about RECLAIM. Who should be allowed in the market and how many credits do you allot so encourage pollution reductions, not profiteering or delay? What is the role of oil and power companies? Should permits be given for free, and, lastly, what about the oversight?

(more…)