2013: great year for California cap and trade program

It was an important year for California’s ambitious efforts to limit greenhouse gases. 2013 marked the first full year of the state’s cap and trade program, the combination of a gradually lowering carbon emissions cap combined with a clean-up-or-pay-up option for the industries affected.

California’s program is the first in the nation.  While the initial auction at the end of 2012 turned in somewhat disappointing results, 2013’s auctions gained a head of steam; to date, more than 324 million carbon allowances have been traded. Each credit is an allowance for one ton of carbon emissions.

But it’s the cash value of those carbon allowances that was watched most closely through 2013 around the state Capitol.  Air Resources Board officials say all told, carbon credits issued and bought in the year were valued at almost $1.1 billion. 

And, because of this trade, there are a lot of cash and there is a great debate about what to do with that money. Bill Magavern, Coalition for Clean Air’s Policy Director, says the list could include everything from weatherization programs to solar panels for low-income housing or even new subsidies for public transit.  He and others argue that all of those efforts would help reduce carbon emissions through energy efficiency or fewer automobiles on the road.

But the Governor Jerry Brown’s own ideas on how to use cap and trade cash are expected to be presented to the Legislature as part of his overall budget plan on Jan. 10.

maria soler