California Air Resources Board adopts GHG cap-and-trade program; first auctions slated for Aug/Nov 2012
The California Air Resources Board on Thursday adopted the final greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cap-and-trade regulation. (Earlier post.) The cap-and-trade joins a suite of other major climate program measures including standards for ultra-clean cars (Advanced Clean Cars, earlier post), low-carbon fuels (Low Carbon Fuel Standard, earlier post) and renewable electricity. The program also complements and supports California’s existing efforts to reduce smog-forming and toxic air pollutants and improve energy efficiency in homes and businesses.
The “cap” limits GHG emissions, and uses allowances—one allowance equals one ton of GHGs—to control total emissions. The cap declines each year, and covered entities must reduce their emissions or compete (“trade”) for allowances. The regulation becomes effective 1 January 2012; first auctions (for 2013 allowances) will be held in August and November, 2012. Compliance obligations for greenhouse gas emissions begins 1 January 2013.
The Board also approved an adaptive management plan to closely monitor the effect of the program on localized air quality and forests, in particular.
The regulation sets a statewide limit on sources responsible for 85% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions and establishes a price signal needed to drive long-term investment in cleaner fuels and more efficient use of energy. The program is designed to provide covered entities the flexibility to seek out and implement the lowest-cost options to reduce emissions.
Cap-and-trade is another important building block in California’s effort to create a clean and vibrant economy. It sends the right policy signal to the market, and guarantees that California will continue to attract the lion’s share of investment in clean technology. When the nation addresses the growing danger of climate change, as I believe it must and will, California’s climate plan will serve as the model for a national program.—ARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols
The regulation will cover 360 businesses representing 600 facilities and is divided into two phases:
the first, beginning in 2013, will include all major industrial sources along with electricity utilities; and
the second, starting in 2015, brings in distributors of transportation fuels, natural gas and other fuels.
The cap will be set in 2013 at about 2% below the emissions level forecast for 2012. The cap then declines about 2% in 2014 and then about 3% annually from 2015 to 2020.
Companies are not given a specific limit on their greenhouse gas emissions but must supply a sufficient number of allowances (each the equivalent of one ton of carbon dioxide) to cover their annual emissions. As the cap declines each year, the total number of allowances issued in the state drops, requiring companies to find the most cost-effective and efficient approaches to reducing their emissions. The first compliance year when covered sources will have to turn in allowances is 2013.
By 2020 the state is intended to reach the equivalent of the 1990-level of greenhouse emissions, as required under AB 32, California’s climate change legislation. This is a 15% reduction compared to what the emissions would be in 2020 without any programs in place—i.e., business-as-usual.
To ensure a gradual transition, ARB will provide the majority of allowances to all industrial sources during the initial period (2013-2014), using a calculation that rewards the most efficient companies. Those that need additional allowances to cover their emissions can purchase them at regular quarterly auctions ARB will conduct, or buy them on the market.
Electric utilities will also be given allowances to be sold at auction for the benefit of their ratepayers and to help achieve AB 32 goals.
Eight percent of a company’s emissions can be covered using credits from ARB-certified offset projects, promoting the development of beneficial environmental projects in uncapped sectors such as forestry and agriculture. Included in the regulation are four protocols, or systems of rules for quantifying offset credits:
- forestry management;
- urban forestry;
- dairy methane digesters; and
- the destruction of existing stores of ozone-depleting substances in the U.S. (mostly in the form of refrigerants in older refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment).
The regulation includes oversight and enforcement provisions, and is designed so that California may link up with programs in other states or provinces within the Western Climate Initiative, including British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.
The regulation has been in development for the past three years. ARB staff held dozens of public workshops on every aspect of the cap-and-trade program design, and hundreds of meetings with stakeholders. ARB staff also benefited from the analysis of a committee of economic advisers, consultation with institutions that specialize in climate issues, and advice from experts with experience from other cap-and-trade programs elsewhere in the world.