Politics & Government

Cap-and-trade program unveiled by California's air board

With voters headed to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of California's climate change law, regulators are pressing ahead with a key part of the statute that puts limits on how much the state's companies can pollute.

The California Air Resources Board today will unveil new rules and regulations for a cap-and-trade program. It will set a ceiling on the amount of carbon that refiners, power companies and major manufacturers can emit each year.

While details of the regulations aren't yet available, ARB officials have already indicated that they plan to take a pro-business approach. They will initially give companies pollution allowances for free, rather than selling them at auction.

"Because of the state of the economy, to go to a large auction quickly just isn't realistic," ARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols said in a legislative hearing earlier this month.

The cap-and-trade program essentially places a cap on the amount of carbon emitted by the state's 500 largest polluters. Companies that pollute less then their limit – to be set by the state – can sell their unused allowances to companies that pollute heavily, creating market incentives for the companies to reduce emissions voluntarily.

The cap-and-trade program is set to begin operating in January 2012. But it could be put on hold if Proposition 23 passes Tuesday.

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