Sightline’s research team is in Portland this week with other delegates to the Western Climate Initiative (WCI)—a collaboration of several western states and two provinces of western Canada to find ways to work together to reduce greenhouse gases in the region. Folks from British Columbia to New Mexico are working through one of the biggest questions of our generation: That is, how to design fair, effective, and efficient climate policies.
There’s a very good op-ed by Fred Heutte of Sierra Club in today’s Oregonian that sums up the important details of this week’s WCI discussions and acknowledges the sheer momentousness of this occasion.
It’s a big deal because the effort has strong backing from the governors of Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, as well as the premiers of British Columbia and Manitoba in Canada.
Plus, WCI is the third major regional climate agreement in North America following the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the Northeast and the Midwestern Climate Accord. This means that well over half of the states in the United States, and several Canadian provinces, are part of regional greenhouse gas reduction agreements based on cap-and-trade systems.
More importantly, these regional agreements are charting new ground when it comes to climate solutions. As Heutte points out, “Getting an early start is crucial, because the regional approach will coordinate state efforts years ahead of a federal system and help set a standard for the nation.” That’s why steps to get climate policy right here really can equate to giant steps for cap-and-trade elsewhere.
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- The cap is the most fundamental piece of a successful climate policy solution. The cap puts a firm limit on pollution and drives emissions down over time.
- A gradual decrease in the cap each year gives emitters flexibility, a clear timeline, and activates the power of the market to seek out the cheapest and most efficient reductions first.
- Polluters pay. To avoid needless windfall profits by a few and to provide vital public revenue, permits should be auctioned, not given away.
- Smart policy can be a win-win for people, the economy, and the environment. Auction revenue will be substantial, in the billions of dollars. It can go to investments in clean energy, creating green-collar jobs, and creating green pathways out of poverty.
- “Offsets can help emitters achieve their targets at a lower cost, but they should beverifiable, permanent and in addition to what would occur otherwise.“
And Sightline would add:
- More than half of all fossil fuel emissions in the WCI states come from transportation. It’s critically important that transportation fuels be covered in the first phase of the program.
- A smart cap-and-trade system tips the playing field away from big historic polluters and toward leaner and cleaner competitors.
Something huge is afoot in our neck of the woods. Not only are WCI delegates setting the stage for our region, as Heutte points out “we can also help set a standard for the rest of the world.”