What happens with a new president?
by Eric de Place
This is the eigth in a short series of posts that explain some important but often overlooked policy issues in the Western Climate Initiative -- the West's regional cap-and-trade system. (Much to readers' delight, this is the last installment I'm planning to write.)
You can't talk about regional cap and trade very long before someone brings up the subject of pre-emption. What happens if the federal government creates a national cap and trade program? Would the regional programs disappear? And if so, why bother working on them?
First, let's get one thing straight: no one knows what will happen.
Seriously. No one has any idea -- and that includes me.
No matter how confidently anybody expresses an opinion on pre-emption, you can rest assured that the person is just speculating. And that uncertainty is precisely why it's so important to work on regional programs like WCI: regional cap and trade is what we've got -- and there's simply no guarantee we'll have a federal alternative soon.
Sure, we know that a new president will be elected in November. But while both McCain and Obama have proposals for a national cap and trade program, it is hardly a foregone conclusion that a serious policy will emerge intact in the near future. Here are a few ways that things could play out:
What if Obama is elected? Even though, generally speaking, democrats have been more amenable to good climate legislation, there's absolutely no guarantee Obama's current (and excellent) proposal would see the light of day. Obama would have dozens of competing high priorities, including the wars, the economy, high energy prices, health care, and so on. So even with Obama as president, there's a high probability that comprehensive climate policy would be delayed, perhaps substantially so.
If a federal cap and trade program is delayed or sub-optimal, it may be critically important for large regions to pursue genuine climate leadership without guidance from Washington DC.
Is this too depressing? Fine, then let's be a more optimistic for a moment. Say that decent legislation gets approved by Congress and signed into law by the president. Even then the fate of regional cap and trade is an open question. A lot depends on how the legislative process plays out.
I've been ignoring Canada so far, but Canadian and US policies interact in fascinating ways. Already, in the Western Climate Initiative, we've seen the beginnings of a genuinely bilateral system with nearly 59 million Americans and 26 million Canadians live in WCI jurisdictions. Any number of interesting things could happen in the next few years.
Ottowa could suddenly start displaying some leadership and initiate a national program for Canada. It's even conceivable that some US states might participate, or at least link with such a program. Just so, a US federal cap and trade program could be open to participation or linking from Canadian provinces.
Another intriguing possibility is that the Western Climate Initiative could morph or divide -- and that WCI would essentially become US or Canadian policy. It may sound far-fetched, but consider that nearly 80 percent of Canada's population is already within WCI. It wouldn't be a big leap to just make a new Canadian policy conform to WCI.
It's even theoretically possible for the same thing to happen in the US. While WCI only represents about 19 percent of the US population, there are rumors that Florida may soon join, boosting the share to 26 percent. And that's nothing compared to the potential addition of the Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, which is reportedly following WCI's footsteps in many respects. The Midwest would raise the share to 39 percent of the US population. If the Northeastern states (which are politically inclined to treat climate policy seriously), expand their current RGGI system beyond electricity generators, they might follow WCI too. All told, that would mean 55 percent of the US would be participating in a non-federal system that would either be WCI, or at least be heavily influenced by WCI.
I'm not even counting WCI's "observer" states that include Alaska, Colorda, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, and Wyoming; nor the Midwest's observers of Indiana, Ohio, and South Dakota; nor Pennsylvania and DC, which are observers to RGGI. And I'm not counting the six Mexican states that are also observers to WCI; they'd lend yet more weight.
The point is: no one knows what will happen. Federal pre-emption could obviate regional cap and trade or pre-emption could be completely irrelevant. Or federal policy could be important but not over-riding. No one knows. And until we can predict the future, developing sound regional climate policy is of paramount importance for North America.
This piece originally appeared on The Sightline Institute's blog, The Daily Score.
Photo Credit: Flicker User D80-Newbie, Creative Commons License.
These WCI articles are great, keep 'em coming!
You may also want to check out (and write about) a new and internationally unique professional designation being developed in Canada for GHG validators, verifiers, and practitioners.