Emissions in sectors covered by cap and trade have not gone down, according to A Preliminary Environmental Equity Assessment of California’s Cap-and-Trade Program.
At last week’s California Air Resources Board hearing to discuss its plan for meeting climate change goals, the cap-and-trade system that has underpinned much of the state’s efforts got raked over the coals. But not by the industries subject to the emissions cap.
Instead, representatives of the communities that are supposed to benefit from investments made possible by money raised by cap and trade asked the board to jettison the program.
Cap and trade, they say, has always been a way for polluters to continue polluting as long as they pay for it. And the harm to communities located near those polluters outweighs any benefits they might get from the money produced by charging them.
Environmental justice advocates have been talking about this for a while, and now there is data backing up their claims. A study by researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley, A Preliminary Environmental Equity Assessment of California’s Cap-and-Trade Program [PDF], found a tight correlation between the locations of polluting industries and of low-income communities, especially communities of color.
High-polluting industries tend to be located near low-income communities and communities of color. Graphic from A Preliminary Environmental Equity Assessment of California’s Cap-and-Trade Program.
But the study found more. The report says that cap-and-trade has not decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and that in fact the opposite is happening: in several industry sectors subject to the emissions cap, in-state greenhouse gas emissions have actually gone up since the program began.
Only about a quarter of offset credits, purchased to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets, come from California. Image from A Preliminary Environmental Equity Assessment of California’s Cap-and-Trade Program.
The assessment also found that the highest emitters of pollution tended to buy out-of-state offset credits and use them to meet their emissions cap, rather than reducing their emissions locally.
Cap and trade specifically targets the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, and yes, those need to be reduce everywhere, not just in California. In that sense out-of-state offsets make sense.
However, the study also found that the companies that emit the most greenhouse gases are the same ones that emit high levels of other serious pollutants like particulate matter, which affect the health of local communities.
In other words, the worst-case scenario seems to be true about cap-and-trade: that polluters who can afford to are continuing to pollute, buying their way out of making actual reductions. And those polluters tend to be located in or near low-income communities that are frequently also communities of color, where their continued emissions of particulate matter and the like are degrading residents’ health.
The purpose of Thursday’s ARB meeting was to discuss its scoping plan for meeting greenhouse gas emission targets, and to that end staff had prepared a fat report detailing the trade-offs of various adjustments that could be made to the existing cap-and-trade system. It was written before the legislature passed S.B. 32, which extends and deepens the greenhouse gas reduction targets that led to the creation of cap and trade—although ARB staff was working under the assumption that the targets would be extended.