Representatives Waxman and Markey released their much anticipated re-write of their proposed cap and trade climate legislation earlier this week. Much speculation has been offered in the media that the bill had no chance of passing as it was originally structured, if it had any chance at all.
Well, there has apparently been a lot of horse trading going on to shore up Democratic support for the bill. Most notably, President Obama's proposal to have 100% auction of allowances (pollution permits) has been completely tossed out. The revised legislation allocates that majority of allowances to industry.
The majority staff provided a summary of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES Act) to the Committee. While the summary is helpful to get an overview of this complex bill, I thought one of the most interesting statements appears in the introduction to the summary appearing on the first page:
In the past two and half years, the Committee has held dozens of hearings on energy and climate change policy and has built a detailed factual record on the need for legislation in this area. The nation's dependence on foreign oil has significantly increased over the last decade. Consumers have faced increasing and volatile energy prices. Other countries have overtaken us in the manufacture of wind and solar energy. Energy company investments are paralyzed because of uncertainty about what policies the Congress will establish. Meanwhile, global warming has increased unchecked.
Let's rank the staff's reasons for passing climate change legislation:
- Reduce dependence on foreign oil
- Volatile energy prices
- Increase production of renewable energy
- Regulatory certainty
- Global warming
Isn't iit a little odd that global warming is not emphasized as the main reason for the legislation. There is no discussion at all of the increased threat of climate change and the need to act. Rather, its about foriegn oil and renewable power. That seems strange to me, after all it is a multi-billion dollar cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gases.
It is clear the choice in messaging is in reaction to the headway Republicans and conservative Democrats have made in raising concerns about the timing and cost of the legislation. In a very difficult economy its hard to gain support for costly new programs, especially programs on the scale called for in this legislation.
In reaction to this strong criticism we find a re-worked bill that provides the lion share of allowances to industry as well as other hedges against the potential cost of the program. I am not criticizing the approach, rather I am commenting on the unrealistic nature of the President's 100% auction proposal. This is a massive new environmental regulatory program, one that is greater in scope than any previous programs. It makes sense to transition toward a carbon regulated economy.
Here are some of the more notable provisions in the legislation:
- Reduction Targets- Reductions from covered sources to 97% of 2005 levels by 2012, 83% by 2020, 58% by 17% by 2050. Here is one of the changes that is meant to ease into a carbon constrained world. The reductions have been diminished in the early years to ease the transition. While it helps out in the early years, at some point we face a major spike in needed reductions. That may be a difficult issue to overcome.
- Who is covered by the Cap?- By year the cap kicks in--- Group 2012: Electricity generators, liquid fuel refiners, and fluorinated gas manufacturers. Group 2014: Industrial sources that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Group 2016: Natural gas local distribution companies.
- Allowance allocation- Coal related: 30% to local electric distribution companies regulated by the states. 5% to merchant coal generators. Natural gas related: 9% of allowances to local distribution companies. Home heating oil and propane: 1.5% to state programs for users of home heating oil or propane.
- Auction- approximately 15% of allowances will be auctioned beginning 2011 and proceeds directed to low and moderate income families to address increases in energy prices. This is a far cry from the President's proposal of 100% auction.
- Offsets- Covered entities are able to offset up to 2 billion tons of emissions by using EPA-approved domestic and international offset credits. The ability to use the credits is divided according to the legislation's allocation formula. By 2017, the price to use international offsets is increased. Covered entities must use five tons of international offset credits for every four tons of emissions being offset. Offsets are designed to reduce the cost of compliance. Industries covered by the cap can purchase credits generated by projects outside of the cap. Offset credits would be cheaper than allowances thereby reducing the cost of compliance. It also creates a whole new business for companies that specialize in carbon offset credit projects.
- Offset Integrity Advisory Board- Board provides recommendations to EPA as to type of offset projects that should be listed by EPA as eligible; appropriate quantification methodologies, etc... The bill contains multiple safeguards to try and improve the integrity of offsets. These provisions have been included to address the criticism the European Trading Scheme has received regarding the lack of creditability of offsets used in Europe's Cap and Trade program.
- National Renewable Portfolio Standard- Includes a requirement that retail electric suppliers provide 6% from renewable energy sources by 2010. The standard rises to 20% by 2020. Up to one quarter of the 20% requirement can be met through energy efficiency projects.
- Clean Air Act Exemptions- The bill would specifically exempt greenhouse gases from coverage under the Title V program, New Source Review Program, NAAQS, and HAPs.
Number 8- is a huge positive factor arguing in favor of the cap and trade approach. As detailed on this blog many times, regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act would be a disaster. It would result in over regulation of small sources, inefficient permitting which would slow projects and significant amounts of litigation.
Dspite the recent media coverage, I don't see how EPA backs away from the cliff at this point. Three are too many things set in motion for EPA to move away from regulation under the Clean Air Act unless legislation is passed. Cap and trade legislation, especially a bill that calls for a smooth transition to a carbon regulated world is just a far better alternative.