Friday, February 4, 2011

California Cap & Trade loses its court fight, and salt ponds show quick rebound

© 2011 Joshua Stark

A couple of unrelated news items, but both timely and interesting.

The California Air Resources Board's adoption of a cap & trade program was shut down by a judge yesterday, due to CARB's inadequate analysis of alternatives, a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) requirement.

CEQA requires state agencies to analyze alternative ways of achieving a project's goal, choosing the most environmentally appropriate way to accomplish it.  In the case of cap & trade, a coalition of environmental justice (EJ) advocates, led by the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, successfully argued that CARB didn't adequately analyze the alternatives to cap & trade that they'd put forward.  And, they have a point. 

Many EJ folks have a serious problem with cap & trade.  While on the large scale, C&T could lower total carbon emissions, it does it in a way that favors particular regions (usually rich ones), and hurts others (usually poor ones).  For carbon, this isn't a problem, because carbon doesn't, say, cause asthma near where it is emitted.  However, impacts to industries that would cut back on carbon emissions would also lead them to cut back on "co-pollutants", those pollutants that come out with carbon, and these are typically very harmful to local communities.

The way C&T gains economic efficiency over other methods is by allowing companies to choose whether it is cheaper to cut their emissions (by lowering output or installing cleaner tech.), or cheaper to buy emissions credits on a market.  By doing this calculation, the price of carbon becomes clear in a market-like manner, and we see cuts to carbon emissions.

It is a simple leap, then, to understand that, if company A wants to buy carbon emissions credits instead of cleaning its emissions, then it will continue to emit carbon, and whatever else comes out of that smokestack.  In fact, if California's cap & trade is tied to a larger market-like mechanism, California could theoretically see increases in its own air pollution, including carbon. 

It's the "whatever else" that bothers EJ advocates and the judge.  CEQA's job is to ensure that state activities consider the most environmentally appropriate actions.  In addition, CARB is mandated to decrease air pollution, and if its activities actually increase pollutants, it may well be in violation of its own mandate. 

Stay tuned for more in this arena, for sure. 

In other, happier news, recovered salt flats in the South San Francisco Bay are returning to their natural state at a very fast clip.  As a Son of the Delta, I am always thrilled to see wetlands recover so quickly, especially considering just how cautious scientists have been due to concerns over water pollution. 

My favorite line from that report:  "A similar study done in 1,400 acres of former Cargill ponds in the North Bay near the Napa River also found a wide abundance of bay fish had come back, including striped bass, tule perch and even a chinook salmon, some only weeks after the ponds had been breached."

A similar scene has been taking place for the last seven years in Iraq, too - if you are interested in that one, head over to Nature Iraq.

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