Cap-and-Trade could help

Hidden among the trees of PA forests, natural gas transport facilities push gas to export and methane to the air.With the Trump administration bailing on environmental efforts and proceeding with as much haste as possible to dismantle regulations put in place by “the previous administration,” states and industry are having to pick up the load. And they’re doing it, in the same way that Elon Musk is taking over NASA’s space exploration role. Electric cars, reusable rockets and taxpaying jobs may do more about climate change than any amount of political rhetoric.

Gov. Tom Wolf said recently he is considering establishing a
Cap-and-Trade program to cut carbon emissions from Pennsylvania industries. In its simplest terms, government – local, state or federal – would set a goal for industries to “Cap” their carbon emissions. For instance, a coal-fired electricity generator spewing four million pounds of a carbon-based greenhouse blanket into the air could be limited to emit only three million pounds of the stuff. The company does what is necessary and everyone is happy, except maybe consumers who get slightly higher bills to cover the cost of the required technology.

And if the company employs methods resulting in a net reduction of two million pounds – one million below the Cap – it can “Trade” the excess to a company unable to meet its quota.

To some of us, when the idea was introduced in the early 1990s, it seemed in some ways to be a waste of hot air. If one industry cut its emissions and sold its excess to allow another industry to emit more, where was the gain, we wondered.

But goal tightening over time was intended to be part of the regulation, former PennFuture CEO Larry Schweiger explained by phone Monday morning. Schweiger also is a former CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and former first vice-president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He currently is on the board of Climate Reality and throughout his career has been active in climate matters.

“It’s like a ratchet wrench,” he said of the Cap-and-Trade proposal. “Every couple of years it ratchets tighter and tighter — gets harder and harder (to reduce emissions further).”

“It would go from high carbon to lower carbon,” he said, “until eventually we’re all at zero.”

Additionally, farmers could receive credit for planting winter cover crops, which result in carbon sequestration when the crops become part of the soil at spring planting – organic matter is carbon-based. Also, oil and gas companies could benefit financially from capping the roughly 7,000 abandoned
oil wells in the state, thus halting leakage of methane – which is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Individual landowners and
organizations could receive credit, and maybe earn cash, from the carbon-storing value of planting trees in riparian buffers.

A Los Angeles Times story in January said California’s program may be too successful, with more allowances available for sale than are needed. A slowed economy from the 2008 crash, added to such factors as citizens leading the nation in home efficiency and electric vehicles, have reduced the state’s emissions beyond the program’s mandate. Some companies reportedly may be hoarding allowances against the day when further reductions in emissions could be more expensive than the emitters are willing to spend.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric annual Arctic Report Card, published Tuesday, confirms warmer air and ocean temperatures and decreasing sea-ice. Other reports indicate Pennsylvania is on track for increased year-round temperatures and precipitation.

Cap-and-Trade likely will not cure all our environmental ills, but it could well be part of a mix of ingredients to help the Keystone State clean its air and water, and even create jobs. It is a program worth discussing.

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