Climate Initiative Loses Most U.S. Members; States Moving to Watered-Down Alternative
Most people may have heard the news that Arizona and New Mexico have officially withdrawn from the Western Climate Initiative (WCI). But in fact, they are just two of six western states that recently announced they were pulling out. Why? And what does this mean for emissions reductions in the West?
The WCI, formed in 2007 and set to begin implementation in January 2012, is intended to be a collaboration between western U.S. states and Canadian provinces to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions to 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This reduction would be accomplished by promoting clean-energy technologies and establishing a regional cap-and-trade program. The collaborating partners originally consisted of seven U.S. states—California, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Utah—and four Canadian provinces. However, six states—all but California—recently withdrew, a move that was not a surprise after years of declining participation, according to WCI’s project manager. In spite of this loss of commitment, the WCI is pushing forward and has recently formed a non-profit corporation to administer the regional emissions trading programs for the five remaining participants—California, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.
Arizona’s situation appears typical of the other states. It originally became a partner under Governor Janet Napolitano. When Governor Jan Brewer took over after Napolitano’s resignation, she kept Arizona in the WCI, but signaled that Arizona would not participate in the cap-and-trade program. This cap-and-trade program is the crux of the issue for all the states that withdrew. According to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the agency director believes that industries would suffer economic costs under a cap-and-trade program and that “there are more effective, responsible ways” in which to reduce emissions. Other states cited similar reasons. That is why all six states from the WCI have joined a new initiative consisting of 14 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces called the North America 2050 (NA2050) Initiative. NA2050 allows participants to collaborate in whichever program meets their priorities and interests while “promot[ing] and implement[ing] cost-effective policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create economic opportunities” (NA2050 Fact Sheet). These programs include exploring issues with carbon capture and sequestration, understanding sustainably harvested biomass fuels, developing approaches to encourage energy efficiency and implementing high quality offsets to be used either for emissions trading programs or for other purposes.
So what does this mean for emissions reductions in the West? Opponents of cap-and-trade programs clearly endorsed the states’ decisions to leave the WCI, even though NA2050 still gives these states the choice to participate if that option becomes more attractive at a later date. Meanwhile, the states can participate in a number of other programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that don’t involve cap and trade. However, several points are worth noting: 1) the states may choose not to participate in any of the programs or groups that NA2050 defines (joining the initiative does not require action), 2) based on the scant information readily available on NA2050 it seems that almost all of the programs are about “evaluating”, “exploring”, and “understanding” energy efficiency and sustainability ideas and not about actually implementing them, and 3) NA2050 doesn’t set any hard emissions reduction goals like the WCI does. However, each state does have its own individual climate action plans (some plans include emission reduction goals), and of course some plans are more rigorous than others. But these plans and goals were set many years ago and I wasn’t able to find any more recent strategies. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how these states proceed in the next few years. What are your thoughts?