Skelton: Pope Francis and Gov. Brown part ways on cap and trade
The pope and California’s governor don’t agree on everything about climate change. Global warming’s threat to the planet? Yes. Selling permits to pollute? Hardly.
Peddling pollution permits has a euphemism. It’s politely called cap and trade. And it raises a ton of money for state government, including Gov. Jerry Brown’s struggling bullet train.
Here’s how cap and trade works:
The state — specifically the California Air Resources Board — sets industry-wide caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Corporations can buy emission “allowances” from the state or on the open market from companies that aren’t polluting all they’re entitled to.
The theory is that when it starts costing companies too much to emit harmful gas, they’ll emit less. It may be working slightly. The air board recently reported emissions fell 0.3 percent in 2013, the first year of cap and trade and the latest year that data are available. Meanwhile, the California economy grew 2 percent.
“California is showing the world how to throw off the shackles of fossil fuel dependency,” air board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said. “No longer must economic growth result in smokestacks and pollution.”
OK, but still we’re allowing companies to pollute through smokestacks if they pay off the state.
That’s the sort of thing Pope Francis strongly objected to in his recent encyclical that called for changes in human behavior to slow down climate change and avoid global catastrophe.
“The strategy of buying and selling ‘carbon credits’ can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide,” the pope wrote. “This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment.
“But in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”
Brown shrugged off Francis’ comments.
“There’s a lot of different ways,” he told reporters, “that cap and trade can be part of a very imaginative and aggressive program.”
Yes, Brown certainly did use imagination in aggressively persuading the state Legislature to set aside 25 percent of cap-and-trade earnings each year for high-speed rail, rescuing his train from a sidetrack. In this budget year, cap and trade is a $500 million lifeline — at least — for the $68 billion bullet train.
Under California’s landmark 2006 anti-global warming law, cap-and-trade money must be spent on projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Brown argues that the 500-mile bullet train will reduce greenhouse emissions by getting passengers out of their cars to ride the electrified rail.
But critics point out that the train won’t be rolling until after 2020, and the line’s construction will spew more gas. No matter. Brown and compliant Democrats are running the Capitol railroad.
The state’s cap-and-trade pot this year is estimated at between $2.2 billion and $2.7 billion. Besides the 25 percent for high-speed rail, 35 percent has been permanently set aside for transit, intercity rail and affordable housing in the urban core. The remaining 40 percent must be fought over each year at the Capitol.
Of the total cap-and-trade kitty, roughly 40 percent comes from expanding the program this year beyond operations such as oil refining and cement making to also include fuel delivering — as in trucking gasoline to the service station.