California's cap-and-trade must stand firm for our future 

This July was the hottest on record for the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average July temperature clocked in at 77.6 degrees, breaking the record set in the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.

By now, everyone can see the looming consequences of global warming. This year’s drought has devastated the nation’s crops. The corn harvest is expected to drop by 13 percent from last year, and the soybean harvest is expected to drop by 12 percent. The price of food — from the staples themselves to the beef produced by cows that feed on corn — will steeply rise.

The problem is clear: Greenhouse gases are contributing to climate change, which will raise the temperature and fundamentally alter our global ecosystem. Heavy industry produces greenhouse gases. Capping them through government mandates is the reasonable first step toward heading off this potentially catastrophic crisis.

That’s why California legislators passed their landmark cap-and-trade bill in 2006. Assembly Bill 32 sets limits on how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases can be emitted by heavy industries, while allowing companies to buy chits from other firms that don’t emit as many greenhouse gases, or plant trees to offset the emissions. The ultimate goal is to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases to levels last seen in 1990.

The cap was scheduled to take effect in January, with oversight by the state’s Air Resources Board. Major industrial companies have had six years to plan for this regulation — plenty of time to revamp their operations or find greener companies from which to buy carbon credits.

Now, however, the Air Resources Board is thinking about dragging out the deadline for years. Under the board’s new proposal, heavy industries would be given extra carbon credits — in other words, free allowances to pump tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In fact, up to 90 percent of the first two years of carbon credits will be given away for free.

Over time, the percentage of free carbon credits will slowly fall, reducing the burden on heavy industries and slowly bringing California companies in line with the state Legislature.

But this is not good enough. Not if we are serious about slowing or halting the potentially catastrophic climate change we are undergoing.

By handing out free carbon credits, the Air Resources Board is considering a plan to subvert the explicit mandate of California legislators, and could put our environment in peril.

California’s oil refineries and factories have long known this law was coming. Their operators have had plenty of time to prepare for the new regulations. Now, the state’s air regulators are on the verge of giving these companies untold extra years to pollute our air at virtually the same rate they always have.

This is unacceptable. The Air Resources Board must pull back from this new plan. If heavy industries want to keep pumping greenhouse gases into the air, they can pay for it — just as California state representatives have demanded.

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