WCI Offsets Offer a Way Out for Polluters

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You propose only the following three types of offset programs: agriculture (soil and manure management), forest management, and waste management. Not only are renewables like wind and solar missing, but many of these proposed programs suffer from fuzzy science. For instance, while research does show that trees can act as an effective carbon sink, it’s unclear how effective they are for offset programs, because they are neither current nor permanent. Temperate zone trees can take 40 years to reach adulthood, so they aren’t necessarily sequestering carbon at the moment offsets are bought.

  • Your recent Recommendations allows 49% of an individual entity’s or facility’s compliance obligation (the number of permits they must use to cover their emissions) to come from offsets! That’s an increase from 10% in your original Draft Design (and a lot of potentially bogus offsets if your ultimate goal is only a 15 percent reduction by 2020).
  • Finally, there is the problem of local air pollution. Since many of the most polluting facilities often locate themselves in areas with high poverty rates and a disproportionate number of racial minorities, an environmental justice problem emerges. California has three out the nation’s five most polluted air basins, and it’s often African American and Latin@ communities that suffer the worst air quality, leading to disproportionate rates of asthma and cancer. With an offset program, facilities have no incentive to reduce local emissions. They have no incentive to invest in cleaner technology. Everyone loses out, not only on good air quality but also on potentially innovative green-energy solutions, in exchange for a false-sense of security from redirected (and possibly phony) emissions reductions elsewhere.
  • As a Californian, I’m quite proud that my state has been a global leader in green energy solutions. However, all that progress (not to mention our competitive market advantage) could go out the window if suddenly companies are given the option to buy their way out of the problem. While the offsets are cheap, dealing with the future environmental and social costs will be incredibly expensive if we lock ourselves into polluting practices and technology now.

    But I promised to end on a happier note. So here goes: perhaps we can use your delayed start date (January 1, 2012) to our advantage by pressuring governments to sew up your offset loophole, such as barring large hydro CDM projects, and create a truly outstanding model of regional cooperation against climate change. And by that time, hopefully with a greener administration in the White House, the federal government will follow suite.

    Update: International Rivers signs letter to CARB to reduce or eliminate offsets in California