After a marathon 10-hour public hearing last Thursday, the California Air Resources Board voted 9-to-1 to adopt the state’s landmark Cap-and-Trade Program. My colleague, Lee Smith, and I spent the day at the packed California EPA auditorium, monitoring the hearing. Over 150 people strode up to the podium to give testimony during the public comment period, spanning the gambit from staunch environmentalists, to climate change skeptics, environmental justice advocates, and many, many a representative of soon-to-be regulated industries and businesses. The chain of testimony was broken up six hours into the hearing by a feel-good guest appearance by Governor Schwarzenegger, who waxed eloquent on the mission of A.B. 32, California’s green jobs revolution, and the momentous step that the state’s Cap-and-Trade Program represented. Indeed, there were many thank yous from commenters to ARB staff and the Board for their hard work on crafting the extraordinarily complex Program and trying to make it more palatable for those affected. Regulated entities noted the outstanding efforts that staff had taken to work with them during the development process.
It was clear, however, that many are still not satisfied with the Program, whether as a whole or with the details of its implementation that will affect various sectors. Environmental justice advocates, such as representatives from the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment, are largely not in favor of the Cap-and-Trade Program as proposed, dissatisfied with the lack of guarantees that the Program will not disproportionately impact low income communities or communities of color. Most people testifying made pleas to have one aspect or another of the Program changed in some manner.
Lucky for those industries hoping to get some kinks ironed out to make the regulation less painful for their business, staff’s job is not done yet. Many details on implementing the Program remain to be worked out. At the hearing, staff presented several modifications to the Cap-and-Trade regulation that was released in early November for public review, and Board members, based on testimony or questions they had, gave staff a laundry list of additional points to further study. The changes to the regulation and other “conforming modifications” will be released for a 15-day comment period. Staff will then continue to tweak the fine points that do not require further Board action, hopefully having all the details of the Program firmed up by July 2011. Regulated entities certainly canvassed for the implementing details to be finalized as soon as possible before the regulation goes into effect on January 1, 2012, in order to have some certainty as to their compliance obligations.
The first hour or two of public comment was dedicated to testimony on the forest projects offset protocol that will allow certain forest projects that sequester carbon to create offset credits which emitters can buy to meet a percentage of their compliance obligations. Several foresters and forest industry representatives testified, but the bulk of the comment was an emotional plea from environmentalists and residents of the Sierras to prevent clearcutting and forest monoculture under the proposed protocol.
How can a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions involve clearcutting? The protocol requires adherence to California forest management practices, even for out of state projects. These forest management practices may be more stringent or protective of the environment than those of other states, but California practices allow for clearcutting on areas of 40 acres or less and for even-aged stand management. Under the forest projects protocol, such practices could be utilized in connection with an offset project, but staff and members of the working group that developed the protocol emphasized that the overall carbon storage of a forest stand in a project must be maintained or increased in order for it to qualify under the protocol and generate offsets. Even with an overall net storage of carbon, however, environmental groups stridently objected to even-aged stand management because older or more diverse forest stands may be replaced with stands having less biodiversity and such stands may be managed with herbicides.
With the considerable objections to this protocol and the Board’s aversion to appearing to be ‘for’ clearcutting, ARB considered modification of the protocol at the hearing. Board Member D’Adamo pressed for an exclusion of any future forest project that involved clearcutting, with several other Members agreeing. However, in the end, the Board approved the protocol as it was presented. Chairman Nichols noted that it may be beyond the scope of the Board’s job under A.B. 32 to dictate different forest practices from those developed by the state’s agencies charged with forest management. The environmental protections embedded in the protocol and the overall requirement to have a net zero carbon loss within any given project seemed to satisfy the majority of the Board in the end.
Continue reading for an explanation of some the major points of the Cap-and-Trade Program.