The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD or the District) Regional Clean Air Incentives Market (RECLAIM) made history as California’s first emissions cap-and-trade program. But the District’s decision to sunset the program has resulted in significant uncertainty surrounding RECLAIM’s transition for local communities and industry alike.

Widely acclaimed at its 1993 inception, the program was intended to promote more efficient emissions reductions by allowing facilities to meet their annual cap either by adopting pollution controls directly or by purchasing RECLAIM trading credits (RTCs) from other facilities able to install controls at lower cost and achieve emissions below their caps. In its early years supporters praised RECLAIM as a success, pointing to significant reductions across the South Coast Air Basin. But in more recent years, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other stakeholders criticized RECLAIM as falling short of expectations, pointing to periods of RTC price spikes reducing the program’s coverage and a subsequent glut of RTCs from plant closures that critics claim lowered the incentive for pollution reductions at remaining RECLAIM facilities.
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The implementation of California’s ambitious Assembly Bill 617 (AB 617) is well under way, but it is still very uncertain whether it can or will achieve its intended outcome. Despite the long process to select the initial list of communities to be included in the in the first year of CARB’s Community Air Protection Program (CAPP) (CARB’s AB 617 implementation program), the hard work to ensure AB 617 is a success remains—namely the development and implementation of the emissions monitoring/reduction plans in the selected disadvantaged communities. In the end, the biggest impediment to AB 617’s successful implementation might be the law’s own requirements, specifically its accelerated implementation schedule, which may not provide California’s air quality management districts (air districts) with enough time to achieve the law’s goals.
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Just before President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, California is moving ahead with new greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations, making good on its commitment to continue its path regardless of what goes on in Washington, DC. This week, the Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) held a special meeting to consider a controversial new regulation targeting oil refineries. If adopted, as planned at the June 21, 2017, Board public hearing, Regulation 12, Rule 16: Petroleum Refining Facility-Wide Emissions Limits (Rule 12-16) would establish first-of-its-kind, refinery-specific, facility-wide caps on emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). The proposed caps limit refinery emissions to seven percent above recent operating levels.
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Photo by Alfonso Cuchi
Photo by Alfonso Cuchi

From the look of things, California is gearing up for a fight.

During the campaign, President-Elect Trump promised to redirect EPA’s focus away from climate change, with a greater emphasis on clean air and clean water. As part of this pledge, he vowed to dismantle the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and roll back EPA regulations, which he sees as hampering U.S. competitiveness.

California sees things differently. On January 4, California’s Legislature announced it had hired Eric H. Holder Jr., President Obama’s former U.S. Attorney General, as outside counsel to lead the state’s legal challenges to the incoming administration on a number of fronts, including the environment. In a joint statement, the Legislature explained, “With the upcoming change in administrations, we expect that there will be extraordinary challenges for California in the uncertain times ahead. . . . This is a critical moment in the history of our nation. We have an obligation to defend the people who elected us and the policies and diversity that make California an example of what truly makes our nation great.”


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