California among 7 states to propose greenhouse emissions plan | SierraSun.com

California among 7 states to propose greenhouse emissions plan

Samantha Young
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO ” Seven Western states and four Canadian provinces on Tuesday proposed a comprehensive program to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, manufacturers and vehicles.

The Western Climate Initiative would establish a regional market to trade carbon emissions credits and is designed to keep costs down for those affected. It covers more polluters than other regional plans adopted in the United States, Canada and Europe.

“We’re sending a strong message to our federal governments that states and provinces are moving forward in the absence of federal action, and we’re setting the stage for national programs that are just as aggressive,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

The plan sets the parameters for a so-called cap-and-trade program to help cut the region’s emissions below 2005 levels by 2020, a roughly 15 percent reduction.

It was drafted by Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, and the four Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec which have joined the program in the last 18 months.

Whether lawmakers in each state will now adopt the regulations is unclear. In Utah, for example, legislative leaders fear a carbon trading program might put the state’s businesses at a disadvantage in a global economy.

“We want to make certain we do not unnecessarily harm Utah businesses,” Senate President Jon Valentine, R-Orem, said Tuesday. “You can end up with such an aggressive approach that it hurts businesses in Utah and makes us not competitive.”

Most large industrial polluters, automakers and coal-based utilities are lobbying state legislatures to wait for a uniform federal program. Congress failed this year to enact global warming legislation ” adding to the push by the western states to go ahead with their own program.

“Doing nothing is going to cost us a whole lot more in the future,” Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire told reporters in a conference call.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski called the framework “a solid starting point” that would help the state meet its goals.

While environmental groups generally support the proposal, they said it might allow states to be too easy on industry if they impose only the minimal benchmarks ” setting the stage for state-by-state campaigns to strengthen the rules.

“It basically would amount to a giant handout to polluters unless the states take further action,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, director of the clean energy program at Environment California.

California air regulators said the program would combat global warming in the most cost-effective manner, spur green technologies, clean up the region’s energy supplies and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

The idea is to allow industries that emit greenhouse gases to buy and sell credits for their emissions. Businesses that cannot cut their emissions enough can buy the right to pollute from other, cleaner companies.

They could also invest in so-called offset projects ” such as planting trees ” to achieve up to 49 percent of their emission reductions, a controversial strategy that environmentalists say would let polluters off the hook for cutting their own emissions.

The proposal by the western states is much broader than a new carbon market being launched this week by 10 northeast states. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative caps emissions from power plants. It also exceeds the European trading program by regulating transportation and home heating fuels.

Under the plan released by the Western Climate Initiative, utilities and industries could begin trading emission credits on Jan. 1, 2012, and transportation and heating fuels would have until 2015.

California businesses likely would be responsible for about 40 percent of the emission reductions in the region, said Michael Gibbs, assistant secretary for climate change at the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Each state would decide the sticky question of how to distribute emission credits ” selling at least 10 percent to polluters through an auction and possibly giving away the rest for free at the beginning of the program.

In California, environmental groups were already calling on state air regulators to require companies to buy their pollution permits.

“Giving for free 90 percent of the global warming pollution permits will create windfall profits for polluters and is a very ineffective and unfair way to run the program,” said Erin Rogers, California climate strategy manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

If fully implemented by all states and provinces, the market would cover nearly 90 percent of the region’s emission reductions, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.

” Associated Press writers Phuong Le in Seattle, Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore., and Paul Foy in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

Western Climate Initiative: http://www.westernclimateinitiative.org