Our View: Time to regulate the carbon game | SierraSun.com

Our View: Time to regulate the carbon game

It’s turned into a $100 million a year business throughout the world and the U.S., but the whole “carbon offset” business is a gray area for many ” even government regulators.

Carbon offset is the term applied to credits bought by people and companies to offset their contributions to global climate change by supporting environmental projects that reduce carbon dioxide elsewhere in the environment.

And now the carbon game has officially arrived in our neck of the woods. The Truckee Donner Public Utility is set to launch its Renewable Energy Certificates program. The effort will add a voluntary fee of about $15 to a willing customer’s monthly bill. That money will go to the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, a nonprofit organization that markets green-power products to public utilities, businesses, government agencies and individuals.

For several years now, ski resorts like Alpine Meadows and Sugar Bowl purchased carbon offset credits from dealers like Colorado-based Renewable Choice to make up for the energy they consume from traditional sources.

Alpine also sells $2 green tags to individual consumers. Illustrating just how popular the carbon offset concept is, the resort sold out of the tags when it stocked its retail shop with them.

But as the money ” locally and nationally ” begins to flow, concern about the potential for fraud in the carbon offset market is, understandably, growing.

In a seven-page letter this week, attorneys general from 10 states, including California, asked the Federal Trade Commission to develop guidelines for businesses that sell credits, according to the Associated Press. The lack of standards, the opaque nature and the lack of universal definitions around carbon offsets by those selling them make it difficult for consumers to know whether they got what they paid for, according to the 10 state AGs.

The FTC should research consumers’ understanding of what carbon offsets are and what disclosures might be necessary to help them make informed decisions, and should undertake enforcement efforts to prevent “overly broad environmental claims” by sellers, the attorneys general said.

With $100 million being generated already and more to come, that request is quite reasonable.

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