Go West, Emissions Cap

Less than a week after Senate Democrats decided that including cap and trade in an energy bill was too ambitious for this year, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) forged ahead with a blueprint for its own such program. Seven U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, which together represent 13 percent of U.S. and 50 percent of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions, have compiled a detailed plan for implementing a market-based system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their region to 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The plan is an elaboration on the design recommendations released by the same states and provinces in 2008. 

WCI plans to meet its emission goals through cap and trade, as well as by advancing other policies, for example, to expand energy efficiency programs and reduce vehicle emissions. The cap-and-trade program will be composed of individual jurisdictions’ own programs implemented under their respective authorities. The regional allowance market will be created by each jurisdiction accepting one another’s allowances for compliance.

Map of the WCI – dark blue states and provinces are Partners; light blue are observers

With Majority Leader Reid’s decision to leave an emissions cap out of the Senate energy legislation, attention is refocusing on the likely primary drivers of U.S. GHG emission reductions for the near future: state and regional programs, federal government regulations under existing authority, and nuisance lawsuits. To that effect, the World Resources Institute recently analyzed what emission reductions are possible from several scenarios of implementation of current state and federal law, finding that the most aggressive efforts could bring the nation "within range" of government targets for 2020 (to 14 percent below 2005 levels, instead of Obama’s stated goal of 17 percent). However, actually achieving the 17 percent target, as well as the mid-century goal of an 83 percent reduction, will require national laws not already on the books, such as one that puts a price on carbon.

The announcement of WCI’s plan makes it abundantly clear that states and regions intend to press ahead with their own climate policies, while at the same time acknowledging that national action remains essential for deep emissions cuts. “While international and federal climate controls are needed," a news release from CA Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said, “California and the rest of the Western Climate Initiative partners are not waiting to take action.” In addition, the WCI is exploring ways to join with other regional GHG markets in the future through the three regions initiative. While we couldn’t agree more that national legislation is imperative, given recent paralysis in Congress it is ever more encouraging and essential that states and regions continue their vital leadership role.

Jessica Shipley is a Solutions Fellow