No More “Cap and Trade” Games

By Bobby Righi | For the Retiree Advocate newsletter

Photo of the author, Bobbi Righi. Gray medium-length hair and green top with multiple pins/buttons..
Bobby Righi

Here we are at the beginning of a new year and a new administration. We are hopeful and breathing a big sigh of relief, but looking over our shoulders for what new monster might be appearing out of the murk of white supremacy, rampant inequality, and climate disasters we have been wandering in. We are facing crises everywhere we look, and to address these we need big, sweeping, visionary solutions.

But SB5126, introduced in the Washington Senate at the request of Governor Inslee and called the “Washington State Climate Commitment” is not big, sweeping, and visionary. It is a “cap and trade” bill and is way too little and way too late. It is an attempt to let “the market” solve the problem, but as we know from experience with health care, food, housing, and transportation, “the market” does not solve problems and usually makes things worse. We need regulation of greenhouse emissions – definite limits on what can be spewed into the air and water that we all depend on for life.

PSARA is opposed to cap and trade programs because these plans have not worked to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The state sets a cap on emissions, but it is usually set so that the limits are easy to meet. The state also issues emission permits that companies can buy or trade to emit more. In nearly all cases, these permits are priced too low. Some businesses get a free pass – free permits — because they might leave the state otherwise. Companies can also “offset” their emissions by investing in forests or other carbon sinks. Emissions do not go down.

California has one of the world’s largest and oldest cap and trade programs, which is touted as a big success. But al-most all the CO₂ savings came from the electricity sector, which cut its use of imported power from out-of-state coal plants – a one-time decrease. Carbon emissions from the oil and gas industry actually rose 3.5 percent since cap and trade began. Refineries, including one owned by Marathon Petroleum and two owned by Chevron, are consistently the largest polluters in the state. Emissions from vehicles are also rising. People in neighborhoods near refineries and roads are facing more pollution and health risks from respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

Cap and trade is not stringent enough. Direct regulations on refineries and cars are crucial to reining in emissions. But oil and gas representatives are engaged in a worldwide effort to make market-based solutions the only way their emissions are regulated. In California, when the cap and trade bill was renewed in 2017, petroleum lobbyists inserted a provision that forbids local entities like cities and counties to limit emissions in their areas. Residents of Richmond, location of a big Chevron refinery, fought hard against this rule, but the lobbyists won.

Cap and trade is a way to make it look like something is happening to limit emissions, but it allows for lots of backdoor manipulation of the details, and that always comes out in favor of the fossil fuel giants. We have to join our allies Front and Centered and UFCW21 and insist that SB5126 be dropped or substantially changed. We don’t have time to play this game anymore.

PSARA will join with allies to sup-port other bills, especially SB 5141, the HEAL Act, which creates an Environmental Justice Council composed of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color representatives to help our state agencies incorporate environmental justice at all levels. We should support HB1084 and SB5093, which promote energy efficiency in new and existing buildings and would help lower our fossil fuel emissions while creating huge savings on energy bills. We also support bills that update the Washington Growth Management Act (GMA): HB1099, which adds climate goals to the GMA, HB 1220 supporting affordable housing, and HB1117, which includes plans for salmon recovery in the GMA.

Progressive forces have been rising out of the mess we are in: youth, Indigenous people, Black and Brown communities, progressive environmentalists, and unions organizing to develop plans and make demands of action by Biden. PSARA has joined with these forces to sign on to the Build Back Fossil Free campaign, which demands that Biden enact executive orders that would, among other things, protect and invest in communities hardest hit, and launch a Climate Mobilization to deliver jobs and opportunity. We have to keep pushing our new president to take bold steps to promote equality and justice for all and dissipate the murk we have been wandering around in.Bobby

Righi is Co-Chair of PSARA’s Climate and Environmental Justice Committee.