Guest Editorial: Extending ‘cap and trade’

By Toni G. Atkins | Notes from Toni

There was reason for celebration on July 17 when the Senate and Assembly worked with Gov. Jerry Brown to pass a package of bills that will extend California’s Cap and Trade program, clean up the air in our communities and continue our leadership role in the fight against climate change.

But what made it even better was that it passed with bipartisan support — Democrats and Republicans coming together to move California forward.

Cap and Trade, launched in 2012 and extended through 2030 with the passage of AB 398, is an innovative and unique way to reduce harmful emissions — a model that other U.S. states and international cities will follow.

The president in June pulled our country out of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change. We Californians have to continue to take control of our state’s future and provide the leadership that the federal government is no longer interested in providing.

State Sen. Toni G. Atkins is a resident of South Park. (Courtesy of Sen. Atkins)

California recently made its already-ambitious greenhouse-gas reduction goals even stronger, pledging to reduce emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Cap and Trade is crucial to meeting those goals. It’s a market-based, incentive-style approach to compelling our heaviest polluters to clean up their industries.

The program caps an industry’s total amount of allowable emissions, and that cap is reduced over time. That’s how we get the overall emissions reductions we’re seeking.

Within that capped system, we allow industries to buy emissions credits at state-run auctions, giving these companies flexibility to comply with increasingly green mandates.

Industries are adapting to a changing landscape — they are going greener all the time. Cap and Trade gives the process a clear structure. Companies will comply with increasingly stringent mandates rather than pay to stay dirty and are rewarded for going green by being allowed to sell emissions credits on a secondary market.

Meanwhile, the state spends the revenue it receives from the program on ways to make our state greener and more sustainable. One of the ways it does this is by funding the Sustainable Communities program, which supports affordable housing located close to transit, addressing two crises at once: housing affordability and climate change.

When I was Speaker of the Assembly, I led the effort to allocate a percentage of Cap and Trade funds toward Sustainable Communities, and it has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars to help stabilize struggling families.

With Cap and Trade set to expire in 2020, the market was beginning to fail under the weight of uncertainty. Without an extension, California would have been in danger of failing to meet our ambitious, world-leading climate goals. It would have sent a message to others who are following our example that the one model to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions wasn’t sustainable over time. Doing nothing would’ve been irresponsible, costing more than 270,000 jobs, according to one estimate.

Gov. Brown did a great job of marshaling a bipartisan coalition in support to extend Cap and Trade — everyone from rural conservatives to urban progressives.

Our industries got certainty, flexibility and a certain amount of relief from what would otherwise have been more draconian and expensive regulatory mandates.

The alternative would have cost tens of billions of dollars more than Cap and Trade — about three times as much.

And those of us who are concerned about excessive pollution in disadvantaged neighborhoods got a companion bill, AB 617, which will result in cleaner air in our local communities. Think, for example, places like San Diego’s Barrio Logan, where residents have been disproportionately affected by childhood and adult asthma because they have had to live side-by-side with polluting businesses.

Current programs tackle air pollution at a regional level to comply with broad state and federal air-quality standards. AB 617 seizes opportunities to comprehensively address air pollution where it matters most — at the neighborhood level.

Together, AB 398 and AB 617 mark an important milestone in the fight against climate change and the battle for cleaner air.

—Toni G. Atkins represents District 39  in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.

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