California Superior Court Rules With Environmentalists Favoring a Carbon Tax Instead of AB32’s Cap and Trade

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Environmental justice groups who believe that a carbon tax will be more effective than cap and trade in lowering pollution sued and won in California’s lower court in February, and the case went to Superior Court in San Francisco.

Now a Superior Court judge has agreed that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) did not adequately review alternatives to cap and trade, halting implementation of AB32, due to begin next January. The Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council have backed the cap-and-trade approach as the more effective in lowering pollution.

Ruling in favor of the Association of Irritated Residents, based in the San Joaquin Valley, and Communities for A Better Environment and four other environmental justice groups, Judge Earnest Goldsmith wrote, CARB “could have, and should have used data from existing programs, studies and reports to analyze the potential impacts of various alternatives.”

However, this objection is fairly easily disproved. If there is one thing that environmental policy wonks excel at, it is undertaking copious research studies and documenting them.

Indeed, “We completed a robust and comprehensive examination of the alternatives to cap and trade with a 500-page environmental analysis that fully addresses the concerns the court raises,” said CARB representative Stanley Young, according to Energy Prospects. “We will rely on this analysis in responding to the court’s decision.”

In fact the cap and trade portion provides only one fifth of the measures in AB32 that move California into the new clean energy economy. Yet the ruling as it stands now, broadly prevents implementation of all the measures in the plan, including new building efficiency standards and low-carbon fuel regulations.

But, reassuringly, CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols said returning to the scoping-plan process would amount to “a little bit more than a tempest in a teapot.”

“In reality it will have very little impact because the plan itself is not of any legal force,” she stated. “The cap-and-trade rule has already been adopted and in fact is already in effect.”

A cap and trade plan is superior to a carbon tax, for two reasons. Cap, and trade.

Only a cap caps pollution at a set limit, that steadily declines each year. By contrast, a tax merely makes pollution a more expensive activity, turning energy waste into a luxury for the rich, and polluter corporations are rich. So a tax does not limit pollution. Starting over, without the checks and balances of carefully written policy like the cap and trade plan, polluters can also just pass down the costs of a tax to the rest of us.

Secondly, only trade generates the auction funds that states can use to fund the rebates and efficiency measures that lower greenhouse gases. The ten Northeastern member states with RGGI cap and trade auctions have already generated almost three quarters of a billion dollars for investment in solar panel rebates and better boilers and insulation for its residents. RGGI has propelled tiny cloudy New Jersey to compete with huge sunny California in solar roof power generated.

The carbon tax is no alternative for another reason, too. In November, California voters inadvertently passed a cleverly worded voter referendum that now prevents new taxes on polluters – Prop 26.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

Image: Artwork by Ann Duffy

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