New York Governor David A. Paterson is thinking of giving the utility industry more free allowances to pollute under the Northeast carbon-trading scheme, as my colleague Danny Hakim reports today.
Environmentalists are furious. But what does this mean for the nine other Northeastern states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — the carbon emissions trading bloc that got underway last fall. [ . . .][A]s the Times article points out, a move by New York could upset the regional politics of carbon trading. Other Northeastern states participating in R.G.G.I., for instance, could feel pressure from their industries to make an equivalent move — though it may not be as easy: Some states would have to consult their legislatures, rather than do it through the executive branch, as in New York.
In New York, the implications will be more significant. If the governor gives away, say, five million more allowances, as the industry wants, that means there will be $17 million less in revenue (going by the most recent auction prices) for the state to spend on programs that would include promoting energy efficiency or renewable energy. That is because the majority of allowances are not given away for free but rather sold in an auction, and the proceeds go to each state.
There would also be an opportunity for “windfall profits” — the industries that received the allowances for free could then sell them on the secondary market for the market price, and pocket the money. (Europe’s carbon trading scheme has been strongly criticized for allowing this to happen.)
Carbon traders worry that a move by New York could undermine confidence in the fledgling carbon-trading market.
The carbon-trading scheme “has struggled with credibility from day one given the starting overallocation of emissions allowances,” said Alex Rau, of the carbon trading firm Climate Wedge, in an e-mail message, “and behavior from the regulators like this will only undermine what little confidence there has been in the market.”