Political Science cap and trade essay for scholarship
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Political Science cap and trade essay for scholarship
Sadie Normoyle 1
Stepping up as a Leader in Climate Change Mitigation
Political Science 420
December 5, 2013
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“Cities and regions are on the front line when it comes to responding to climate change. Only by
harnessing all our efforts at local, regional, national and [international] level can we hope to
achieve the changes needed.” –Neil Swannick
Washington State has long prided itself on being a champion for environmental advocacy
and for being a strong presence in the fight against climate change. However, the “inconvenient
truth” of that matter is that we are simply not doing enough. Washington, and in fact all states,
cannot wait any longer for an international or even national solution to rising sea levels and
temperatures. It is up to us, the states, to bring about the change that is needed to mitigate the
devastating effects of climate change. In spite of misunderstood barriers (such as funding and
making a “global” issue local) local and state governments can be the perfect place to seriously
address and combat climate change (Linstroth). The reasons for this are that local and state
governments can adopt policies that are tailored to their region and their own varying
vulnerabilities to climate change effects. Additionally, local and state governments are generally
in control of land use decisions, transit options, solid waste disposal, and have the power to tax the
pollution of industries in their area. Finally, state and local officials can stand as an example for
the rest of not only the country, but the world. Trying to fix the climate at the federal level has
failed in most regards, and now it is up to the local and state governments around the country to
make America into the leader it should be.
As Ana Blanco says, “traditional top down decision making processes have become
inadequate, due to their inability to create appropriate solutions for local communities” (Blanco).
Washington State needs to step up and be the beacon for sustainability by being more aggressive
in our strategies and policies to address climate change in ways that are good for the state. By
looking at the progress we have made thus far, acknowledging that we need to up the stakes and
have stricter and more assertive policies, and by looking at other states, such as California, as
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models, we will begin to be the leader in climate change. Additionally, a large component of
becoming a national leader in climate change policy will be to change the ways in which people,
especially policy makers, think about climate change. To start, people need to stop thinking of
climate change policies as a kiss of death for the state’s economy. Measures to solve climate
change, such as “energy efficiency, the development of renewable energy sources, and carbon
trading” can and will boost the economy and create thousands of new jobs (Tamminen).
Additionally, people need to start looking at the long-term benefits versus just the short-term costs
when looking at climate change policies. Our natural resources have more value than just the base
economic figure assigned when they are consumed by the populous.
The time to act is now. Immediate action is not only better for our planet but is more cost
effective in the long term. Certain areas of the country, including our state are starting to already
feel the effects of climate change. Often times there is the misconception that climate change is a
future problem, that its effects won’t affect our lives until the far off future. In reality this is not
the case, as shown by rising sea levels, increased natural disasters, and droughts and flooding in
various areas. Additionally, part of the problem is that it can often be mistaken that climate change
requires international solutions only. The information regarding climate change therefore must be
transferred to state policymakers in a language that they not only understand but also support
(Linstroth). The issue essentially must be tied into local interests. It must be understood that if we
act now we reduce the risk of far more adverse climate impacts as well as economic strain. Natural
disasters are costly and time consuming as well as a strain on a community’s morale. Acting now
reduces the risk for future generations and provides economic opportunities and job growth today,
in the ways of clean energy. Acting now also reduces reliance on imported fossil fuels thus getting
us one step closer to energy independence.
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Washington has taken many positive steps in regards to climate change policies. In 2007
the governors of 5 western states: AZ, CA, NM, OR, and Washington all started the Western
Climate Initiative (WCI) in order to combat climate change (Dep. of Ecology). The WCI’s goal
was to develop a “multi-sector, market-based program” to reduce GHG emissions (Dep. of
Ecology). This Initiative had goals to lower carbon emission 15% below 2005 levels by 2020 as
well as implement a region cap-and-trade program for the West Coast. The cap-and-trade system
was to be composted of the individual jurisdictions’ cap-and-trade programs implemented through
state and provincial regulations. Each WCI partner will then issue “emission allowances” to meet
its specific emissions reduction goal. The key aspect about a cap-and-trade system is that it puts a
price on emissions, thus making the cost of polluting more than the cost of ultimately finding a
more renewable energy source.
While the efforts behind the WCI and the goals it gave were admirable, many accused
it as being a “greenwash” used to avoid committing to the Kyoto Protocol (Strasser).
Additionally, it has been cited by some that more drastic cuts in emissions, up to 40%, could
be achieved without affecting investment yield, a good indicator that these cuts would not
affect the economy as a whole (Strasser). Despite the potential of the WCI, in 2010 it was
announced that several US partners would either delay or not implement the programs laid
out in the WCI. The WCI was then streamlined to include, as of 2013. only California and 4
Canadian provinces as active partners in the WCI. Washington State resigned as a partner
and in 2011became an “observer”—meaningthatit is still an active participant in the design
of the program but is unwilling to implement the cap and trade system laid out by the
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However, progress has been made in Washington State since stepping back from the WCI,
but whether or not will be enough is the question. In 2008 a comprehensive plan for Washington
State to reduce our GHG emissions and expand our green economy was released. This plan
presents an inclusive set of policies, regulations, and incentives to meet with GHG emissions
reductions. The required reductions are meant to get us to the goal of returning to 1990 GHG
emissions levels by 2020, reduce emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2035, and to reduce
emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2050 (Littell). This plan also has the goal of reaching and
sustaining 25,000 “green economy jobs” by 2020 (Littell). Washington also current has regulations
in regards to emissions inventory and reporting. Currently industries must report to the Department
of Ecology if they emit at least 10,000 metric tons of GHG annually in the state (however, it is
unclear what is done after the reports are in) (Brant). We also have many regulations in place to
address reducing emissions from State Agencies. Currently State Agencies are required to quantify
and reduce their carbon footprint in accordance to the state’s mandatory targets (Brant). In addition
we have numerous regulations to address transportation emissions as well as other sources of GHG
Washington currently is at a place where many different choices are available on how to
proceed with the issue of climate change. We can either stay at our current level of action (which
admittedly is better than most states) or proceed further in being national leaders in climate change
policy. There is no realistic alternative in going back to the way things were in regards to not
having regulations on GHG emissions, that time has passed. If we stay at the current level of action
we will reduce our emissions but not by as much as we hope. If our current emissions reduction
policies are fully implemented it will result in about 45% of the necessary reductions needed by
2020 (Littell). It is important to note that our current action is strong in its goals, but the question
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is whether or not those goals will be reached with the current level of regulations and incentives.
For example, we currently have many policies that address State Agencies, vehicle pollution etc.,
but nothing substantial about the industries in our state (such as Boeing who is a major polluter of
the Duwamish River area in Seattle). Industries play such a huge role in the emissions of GHGs,
why are they not specifically stated in the regulations and restrictions of emissions?
It is with this in mind that I recommend that we up the stakes and take a more aggressive
approach in climate change policy. We need to step up and take the lead like California did in the
60’s and 70’s when it established the first requirements for auto-emission controls (Hogan).
California recognized that it was a major contributor to GHG emissions and, acknowledged the
problem, took responsibility, and looked towards solutions. We can no longer hide our heads in
the (rapidly deteriorating) dirt and wait for national or international solutions. “Recent reports have
characterizes states and localities as filling part of the “gap” left by current national US Policy”
(Kosloff). The trend of local and state action is nothing new, it is happening right now. Currently,
twenty-eight states and Puerto Rico, have completed, or are developing, “plans containing
statewide strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions” (Engel). We need to be at the
forefront of this action instead of lagging behind. We, as a state, need to be the leader of this type
of grassroots action and show the federal government that the time has come for policies that tackle
the problem of climate change.
To be the leader that we are capable of, we need to make a few key changes in our climate
change policy. First, we need to include industries in the restrictions and regulations that we
currently have. It needs to be states that industries must also cut their emissions by a certain
percentage (the amount will be determined on the size of the industry as well as other factors) in
accordance to the states goals of lower emissions. We should also extend the Clean Fuels Tax
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incentive to companies and businesses that use renewable forms of energy. This will provide an
incentive for businesses to make the switch to cleaner forms of energy. Additionally, we need to
close the oil tax loophole in Washington State. The “Extracted Fuel Exemption”, as it’s called, is
an accidental loophole that gives oil industries $63 million each biennium (De Place). The loophole
currently in place was passed in 1949 (before Washington had oil refineries). The exemption was
originally for the benefit of the timber industry but now out-of-state oil interests gain nearly 98%
of all the profits of this loophole. In order for our state to truthfully claim that it is doing its best in
the fight against climate change we need to stop this huge handout to oil industries. I also advise
that we reinvest this money into our higher education system, in order to ensure the growth of
future generations. My final recommendation is to enact a cap-and-trade program throughout the
state in order to actually bring down the emissions levels to those we have set in our current agenda.
And ultimately we need to show that the measure to solving climate change will boost the economy
and create thousands of new jobs, just as California did (Tamminen).
Naturally there will be many key players in the creation of more stringent climate change
policies. In our region, the lumber and forest industry will be a major player, as will the oil
industries who run refineries in our state. Additionally, there will be the big industries located in
Washington, such as Boeing, who will have a strong voice in the creation of new policies. The
smaller groups who will also be invested will be the energy companies (both renewable energy
such as wind and solar, as well as the fossil fuel industry such as Puget Sound Energy), the
agricultural industry and the fishing industry. Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), such as
the state chapters of the Sierra Club, will also take a strong stance in lobbying for more action.
Another voice that is gaining momentum is community members, and especially college students.
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At Western Washington University, for example, students made a huge impact in voting for
council members who did not support the Cherry Point Coal Terminal.
If we stay on the current path we have now all groups will be affected in the long term as
climate change continues to worsen. In the short term aspect, big oil and lumber companies, Boeing,
and fossil fuel energy providers will be more supportive in that they will have less strict regulations
in regards to GHG emissions. Communities, on the other hand, will feel the ever present effects of
climate change even more, especially those on the coast. However, if we look into adopting all the
changes that I outline above, we will have communities, NGO’s, college students, fishing
industries, and renewable energy companies who will support and advocate the proposed changes.
Whereas Boeing, Oil and Lumber industries, and fossil fuel energy providers will initially resist
the changes due to the perceived loss in revenue that comes from making the switch to renewables
and paying for excess emissions. It is true that there will be difficulties in the beginning, after all
making internalized switches from fossil fuels to renewables costs money. However, it needs to
be understood that energy efficiency, developing and using renewable energy and carbon trading
will boost our economy and provide sustainable job growth, as will be explained later.
The biggest group that must be convinced is in fact elected officials. The representatives
we elect will ultimately have the last say in whether or not more climate change policies are passed.
In order to gain their support, we need to first gain the support of community members and business
owners. We will do this by looking at projected job growth and the growth of the economy.
According to the Report for Climate Solutions, it is predicted that there will be more than 41,000
new jobs in the Pacific Northwest by 2025 in the areas of solar, wind, green building services,
bioenergy, and smart grid industries (Dep. of Ecology). Taking immediate action to address
climate change will not only create jobs but will also aid our economy and business community.
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The certainty of a cap-and-trade system will make investments in reducing emissions more cost
effective for businesses and industries will therefore create a stronger and more solid market for
renewables, encouraging investments in those technologies. This new market will allow businesses
to profit from investing as well as manage their risks in continuing with fossil fuels and other non-
There is no denying the power of big industry’s interests when it comes to lobbying efforts.
For example there will be the lobbying against the removal of the oil tax loophole by oil industries.
However, it is important to remember that millions of our dollars are going to these industries, in
a loophole that was an accident to begin with, and that our money can and should be invested into
much more important areas, such as education. Overall, fossil fuel companies and industries will
unite in resisting further climate change initiatives. Often times, they argue that voluntary action
by industries is enough to bring down carbon emissions. While this may be true in theory, rarely
do we see industries willingly take the first step in bringing down GHG emissions. Therefore, it
can be argued that more direct action is needed to push businesses and industries in the right
direction towards a more green and prosperous economy. Those who will be opposed to increased
policies will have a good argument that we are already doing more than most of the country. I
however ask, is being marginally better than those doing nothing something to be proud of? We
should be focusing our energy in embracing what is sure to be the future, green economies and
Cap-and-trade systems often are likened to a deathblow for the economy. However, it is
important to recognize that low-carbon technologies are the way of the future. The way we are all
living now in this country is not sustainable and will not last; therefore the logical solution is to
jump on the opportunity of investing in these technologies and systems. It is estimated that by
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2050, markets for low-carbon technologies are predicted to be worth “at least $500 billion annually,
and possibly much more” (Easton). We need to position ourselves, as a state, with a head start in
preparing for the transition to a low-emissions economy. Cap-and-trade systems also present the
opportunity for businesses in the creation of new technologies, capture-and-storage projects,
increased production in low emission vehicles and consulting opportunities (Easton).
The cap-and-trade system that I am proposing will set a limit (or cap) on GHG emissions
for Washington. The state will issue allowances, which are essentially permits for emitting GHGs,
which equals the estimated total amount of emissions from capped sectors (determined by looking
at the state as a whole and the amount of emissions from industries). The cap, or amount of permits
will decline over time to ensure that the goals for emissions reductions are set (Dep. of Ecology).
This design will regulate and facilities that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of certain greenhouse
gases each year and requires strict reporting from the industries. What will the cap and trade do
for our state? By using a market based system, the permits provide incentives for industries and
businesses to create new technologies that increase efficiency and promote renewable energy
sources as well as decrease emissions. Also, there will be cascading effects in that we will also
become more energy independent as well as gain economic advantages by being ahead of the rest
of the country in the inevitable shift that is going to occur in green technology.
The alternative to this is a carbon tax. A carbon tax would entail policymakers levying a
fee for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted or for each ton of carbon in fossil fuels (Dep. of Energy).
The theory is that companies would be motivated to cut back on their emissions if the cost of doing
so was less than the cost of paying the tax. Though this would (in theory) achieve the same goals
as a cap-and-trade system, and would be received equally as well from communities, NGO’s,
environmental organizations, and other such groups, the big industries would, I feel, be more
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opposed to a tax rather than the cap-and-trade system. The cap-and-trade system allows for much
more freedom and flexibility than a carbon tax, something that the corporate sector values highly.
Cap-and-trade systems enable facilities to make reductions when and where they are most cost
effective for that company or building, meaning that cap-and-trade systems do not mandate where
reductions occur, only that they must. Also, the design recommends the acceptance of offset credits
(Dep. of Ecology). Those are credits for projects that reduce emissions outside at facilities whose
emissions are below the threshold. Additionally, I feel that some policymakers would also be
opposed to a carbon tax as in our current recession it is more difficult to pass legislation that
increases or adds new taxes. With a carbon tax the price for the emissions is a certainty, but the
actual amount of reductions are not. In a cap-and-trade program, policymakers set a specific limit
on the total emissions, which ensure reductions occur.
In conclusion, climate change poses a real and present threat to our economy and way of
life, but also offers economic opportunity and growth through cap-and-trade systems and reducing
our carbon emissions drastically. Washington is “well positioned to lead a transformation to the
new green economy, creating job and economic growth along the way” (Littell). Washington was
the first state to make workforce training a key part of climate policies and currently ranks 4th in
the nation in private investments in clean energy (Littell). We also rank 5th in wind power
production. These statistics show that responding proactively to climate change has provides us
with new economic opportunities, and so it stands to reason that it will continue to do so. We as a
state have always been forward thinking, and we cannot stop now. It is imperative that we be
adaptive and flexible in our plans to deal with climate change. Transforming our economy into a
green economy and making the shift in social thinking to more environmentally conscious requires
action at every level: local, state, and national. After all, the rallying cry of the environmental
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movement has always been to “think globally, act locally”, why should climate change policies be
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