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Friday, January 2, 2009

Carbon Cap & Trade in (Parts of) the US

I didn’t give people greenhouse gas credits as holiday gifts, as in, “Happy Chanukah, I’ve offset your carbon footprint for this week!” or “Merry Christmas, I bought you some methane!” or “A fine Festivus to you and yours; I’m fighting global climate change in your name!”

In theory, this would be a reasonable extension of donating to charities as a non-materialistic holiday gift. In practice, I feel like it would end up sounding more like, “Could we celebrate this year by my ramming my beliefs down your throat?”

It’s a precarious balance.

If you shout at people, you alienate them and they ignore your message; if you whisper, most people can’t hear you.

“We’re doomed!” is excessive (Who knew?).

“Pssst, environmental apocalypse coming soon, pass it on,” seems a tad inadequate.

The Happy New Year news is that ReGGIe is now up and running.

Under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, but Reggie to its friends), as of January 1st, ten mid-Atlantic and northeastern states have implemented the first mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade program in the US.

Straight up the coast, from Maryland to Maine—with Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont in between and with Pennsylvania and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec currently enjoying “observer status,” power companies will have to either reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (for which they will earn salable credits) or pay a fee for every ton of CO2 they emit ($3.38 at the last auction).

The goal is to reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector by 10% by 2018. The money the states collect from the auctions is to be used for energy efficiency projects, renewable energy, and other clean energy technologies.

This is a welcome step from the states, given that the Bush administration (Bye now, don’t forget to write!) has worked to pillage, rather than to preserve, the environment. Hopefully this will serve as a model for the incoming Obama administration, something that can be rolled out nationwide if it works well.

I’m not convinced that The Market Will Save Us! But it’s clear that sending the right economic signals, and setting up incentive systems that push both companies and people to Do the Right Thing is a crucial part of addressing our environmental problems.

And a Happy Festivus to all!


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