Hot, Cold, Warm: The ever-changing role of North America’s regional cap-and-trade programs

November 16, 2009, by Tim Stumhofer

Interest in North America’s trilogy of regional cap-and-trade schemes has seesawed since a group of northeastern US states first came together in the early half of this decade to put up a united and ambitious climate policy front in the face of federal inaction.

Commentators drawn to the states’ rights storyline, intrigued by the prospect of [incrementally] bringing carbon trading to the US, and charmed by the program’s anthropomorphized acronym (RGGI –> “ReGGIe”) embraced America’s first regional scheme.

Perhaps in part due to staler “acronyese” amongst the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s copycat brethren the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) and the Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (MGGRA), but more substantively a result of changing national political circumstances, interest in the genre subsequently waned. Indeed, acting as something of an inverse indicator of US federal climate policy hope, the regional schemes suffered an initial Obama bump… to the realm of irrelevance marked by legal discussion of preemption and codified in explicit credit-conversion provisions of the House-approved ACES bill.

Now that the cap-and-trade obstacle course has been marked in the US Senate, E&E News is reporting that, like a phoenix from the ashes, last week’s gathering of regional cap-and-trade leaders in Washington to discuss program linkage is again worth noting.

Rooted in in-your-face American federalism, made meek by the reality of narrow political applicability, and now diligently working behind-the-scenes, North America’s regional cap-and-trade schemes are emerging as a dark horse hedge against the possibility that a climate bill will fail the Congressional test.

Tim Stumhofer, Program Associate

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