California Cap and Trade: Climate Problems Solved?


By | Ciara Emery

As hundreds of bills sit on Governor Jerry Brown’s Desk for signature at the end of this legislative session, a cap and trade extension prevails as a win…for some.

A ten-year extension to California’s landmark carbon market was approved in the middle of July this year—four years after its initial passage in 2013.

California’s carbon market consists of caps on carbon emissions to certain sectors of the economy and includes the ability to trade allowances to meet emissions targets. These targets get smaller every year.

The idea is simple: industries and businesses that remain under their emissions limits will be awarded with extra income from the sale of their extra allowances. Industries that are not under their emissions limits will be penalized with the extra costs of their pollution.

This market-method of climate change mitigation is a bipartisan step forward on the path towards sustainability—with a few hiccups that is.

While several assembly Republicans in California voted for the measure, it was far from bipartisan. No more than one month after the vote, Republicans ousted the Assembly Republican Caucus Leader, Chad Mayes, in an upset party vote. His discretion? Allowing eight caucus members to side with Democrats in favor of the measure.

Republicans argue that concessions such as these allow Democratic legislators off the hook on tough votes. Three Democrats, including Assemblyman Mark Stone who represents the cities of Santa Cruz and Monterey, were able to vote no and avoid any wrath from tough districts.

Republicans would also like to fall in line with national GOP stances and oppose the measure for its seemingly anti-business policies and tax-like features.

While this debate rages on the right, the same amount of conflict has risen on the left.

Environmental justice advocates largely find this extension a loss for low-income communities and communities of color. These communities are overwhelmingly more impacted by pollution from the sale of extra allowances than more affluent communities in California.

While several initiatives attempt to respond to this inequality (AB 617 also passed this session, which attempts to address issues of air quality), large scale problems persist.

California is continuously hailed as a national leader for Climate Change policy. In many cases, we act with fervor where others do not. But we still have significant conflicts to grapple with.

California Republicans must figure out which side of history their party wants to stand on. Democrats need to commit to environmental justice concerns. The climate should not be better for some, it needs to be better for all.

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