Politics & Government

California's preliminary 'cap and trade' plan is due today

The state Air Resources Board today plans to unveil a preliminary draft of the nation's first "cap and trade" program for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases.

The release will lay out a framework for the plan, but will leave many key details to be decided over the coming year, an agency spokesman said. The system is scheduled to take effect in 2012.

The emissions-trading market is among the most controversial strategies the state is employing to meet the requirements of Assembly Bill 32, California's 2006 omnibus global-warming law.

Predictably, industry and environmental groups disagree over how the plan ought to be designed. But the proposal also has opened fissures within the environmental community.

A coalition of environmental justice groups sued the state in June, arguing that a cap and trade system would tend to concentrate air pollutants in low-income communities – and would be ineffective and unenforceable.

The Environmental Defense Fund, a national group, has defended the state's approach as a practical and cost-effective way to cut emissions. Last month, the group petitioned to intervene in the case on behalf of the state, but was denied by a San Francisco Superior Court judge.

Under the cap and trade system, the state would issue annual permits, or allowances, to entities that emit large volumes of greenhouse gases, such as power plant operators. The total supply of permits would ratchet down over time, giving polluters two options: cut their own emissions or buy allowances from other firms that have made cuts and thus have permits to sell.

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