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Op-Ed: Why California’s climate solution isn’t cutting it

Jacques Leslie, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Many Californians take pride in the state’s position on the front lines of the global climate change struggle, but the dismal performance of its centerpiece climate program — cap and trade — shows that in a crucial way the state’s reputation is undeserved. Even here, in the heartland of climate awareness, it turns out that the oil industry calls the most important shots.

A revelatory November report by ProPublica delineates how the oil industry has successfully gamed the cap-and-trade program. The system is supposed to force a gradual decline in carbon dioxide emissions by issuing polluting companies an annually decreasing number of permits to pollute, but it has granted so many exceptions that the program is nearly toothless.

As a result, since the beginning of cap and trade in 2013, emissions from oil and gas sources — generated by production, refining and vehicle fuel consumption — have increased by 3.5%, according to ProPublica’s analysis. This is alarming, not least because the last of those categories, the transportation sector, is the leading source of emissions in the state.

In fact, the oil industry has found California’s cap-and-trade program so accommodating that it has been promoting similar market-based climate approaches — cap and trade and carbon taxes — around the world, according to ProPublica. The bigger threat to the oil industry is direct regulation, which it consistently opposes. Unlike cap and trade, regulations could target specific economic sectors and focus directly on limiting the oil industry’s carbon pollution.

Market-based policies now dominate programs that are intended to curb climate change. The 2015 Paris climate agreement touted such approaches as a principal method to reduce emissions, and according to a World Bank report in June, at least 57 jurisdictions have established carbon pricing programs. The problem, as the report points out, is that “prices remain too low to deliver on the objectives.”

The oil industry’s leverage over California’s cap-and-trade program stems in part from its successful backing of Proposition 26, a 2010 state ballot initiative that requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to raise fees, including the cap-and-trade program’s charges for permits to pollute. That meant that in 2017, when state leaders set about extending the program for another decade after 2020, they needed buy-in from legislators in both parties who represent districts with major oil installations. That gave the oil industry an opening to nix provisions it didn’t like.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-01-02/cap-and-trade-california-oil-and-gas-industry

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , , , ,

Cap and trade is supposed to solve climate change, but oil and gas company emissions are up

Lisa Song, PROPUBLICA

Countries have called California’s cap-and-trade program the answer to climate change. But it is just as vulnerable to lobbying as any other legislation. The result: The state’s biggest oil and gas companies have actually polluted more since it started.

Gov. Jerry Brown took the podium at a July 2017 press conference to lingering applause after a steady stream of politicians praised him for helping to extend California’s signature climate policy for another decade. Brown, flanked by the U.S. and California flags, with a backdrop of the gleaming San Francisco Bay, credited the hard work of the VIPs seated in the crowd. “It’s people in industry, and they’re here!” he said. “Shall we mention them? People representing oil, agriculture, business, Chamber of Commerce, food processing. … Plus, we have environmentalists. …”

Diverse, bipartisan interests working together to pass climate legislation — it was the polar opposite of Washington, where the Trump administration was rolling back environmental protections established under President Barack Obama.

Brown called California’s cap-and-trade program an answer to the “existential” crisis of climate change, the most reasonable way to manage the state’s massive output of greenhouse gasses while preserving its economy, which is powered by fossil fuels. “You can’t just say overnight, ‘OK, we’re not going to have oil anymore,’” he said.

But there are growing concerns with California’s much-admired, much-imitated program, with implications that stretch far beyond the state.

California’s cap-and-trade program was one of the first in the world, and it is among the largest. It is premised on the idea that instead of using regulations to force companies to curb their emissions, polluters can be made to pay for every ton of CO₂ they emit, providing them with an incentive to lower emissions on their own. This market-based approach has gained such traction that the Paris climate agreement emphasizes it as the primary way countries can meet their goals to lower worldwide emissions. More than 50 programs have been developed across the world, many inspired by California.

But while the state’s program has helped it meet some initial, easily attained benchmarks, experts are increasingly worried that it is allowing California’s biggest polluters to conduct business as usual and even increase their emissions.

ProPublica analyzed state data in a way the state doesn’t often report to the public, isolating how emissions have grown within the oil and gas industry. The analysis shows that carbon emissions from California’s oil and gas industry actually rose 3.5% since cap and trade began. Refineries, including one owned by Marathon Petroleum and two owned by Chevron, are consistently the largest polluters in the state. Emissions from vehicles, which burn the fuels processed in refineries, are also rising.

Read more at https://www.propublica.org/article/cap-and-trade-is-supposed-to-solve-climate-change-but-oil-and-gas-company-emissions-are-up