California Air Resources Board Conducts Auction for Cap-And-Trade Program

On November 14, 2012, the California Air Resources Board will conduct its first quarterly auction for greenhouse gas allowances under the cap-and-trade program, which is identified in the Assembly Bill 32 Scoping Plan as one of the strategies California will employ to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

In 2006, the Legislature passed and Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In complying with AB 32, CARB prepared a Scoping Plan identifying a cap-and-trade program as one of the strategies California will use to reduce the GHG emissions that cause climate change. The cap-and-trade program places a limit on the GHG emissions allowed from pollution producers like refineries and cement manufacturers, and directs all entities subject to the cap (covered entities) to surrender “compliance instruments” equivalent to their GHG emissions to CARB. Compliance instruments include both allowances, which are allocated by CARB or obtained from auctions or secondary markets, and offset credits, which represent GHG emissions reductions achieved in sectors that are not subject to the cap.

This year, the cap-and-trade program covers about 350 industrial businesses operating a total of 600 facilities throughout the state. They include cement plants, steel mills, food processors, electric utilities, and refineries. Starting in 2015, the program will also cover distributors of natural gas and other fuels. For the first two years of the cap-and-trade program, covered entities will receive 90 percent of their allowances for free, with the free amount and the cap declining over time. Covered entities must either cut their GHG production to that level or buy credits to make up the difference. Companies that have more credits than they need can sell them at the auction, and CARB will sell additional credits as well. The proceeds from CARB’s sale of allowances sold at auction will be deposited in CARB’s Air Pollution Control Fund, awaiting appropriation by the Legislature. 

The November 14, 2012, auction is the first, major step for CARB in implementing the cap-and-trade program. Though there remains strong opposition to the program from those businesses required to participate in it, CARB’s completion of this first auction signifies its commitment and readiness to enforce compliance with the cap-and-trade program when it comes online in January 2013.