Carbon Tax

Illustration of global seesaw with large and small industrial polluters on either end balancing it out with transfers of cash for carbon credits. (Parra MCT)

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Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
October 11, 2015

  • Legislature adjourned without acting on billions in cap-and-trade funds
  • There’s no agreement on how to spend carbon-auction proceeds
  • Meanwhile, the auction program faces a lawsuit challenge

One of the chores the Legislature left undone when it adjourned was spending billions of dollars from auctioning carbon dioxide emission credits.

There’s no shortage of suggestions on how to spend the “cap-and-trade” money, but state law says it’s supposed to be spent on reducing carbon emissions and thus combating climate change.

Gov. Jerry Brown already has a big chunk of the money – $250 million a year and growing – to spend on his pet bullet train project on the assertion that it will make a big dent in tailpipe carbon emissions.

However, the Legislature’s budget adviser, Mac Taylor, has opined that the bullet train will have negligible impact on emissions by a 2020 deadline, and its construction may actually increase them.

The High-Speed Rail Authority’s own projections, meanwhile, tell us that even when fully operational circa 2040 – if it’s ever built, of course – its impact on auto traffic would be infinitesimal.

Spending on the bullet train typifies proposed uses that have only, at best, a theoretical nexus to carbon reduction. Brown himself has proposed shifting $500 million to highway projects that would make driving more convenient, and other proposals include such things as more low-cost housing.

The money is piling up largely because the Air Resources Board applied cap-and-trade to auto fuel this year, raising prices by an estimated 10 cents per gallon, which translates into more than $100 million a month in additional revenue.

To read expanded column, click here.