There’s been a lot of talk about California’s budget crisis and its dysfunctional political system–a wound that was entirely self-inflicted by the anti-tax brigade, which made it possible for one-third of one house of the legislature to block any increase in taxes. (See Ezra Klein for more.) But there’s another area where California is putting Washington to shame: climate change.
The Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee to the California Air Resources Board recently released its recommendations for how emission permits under the state’s cap-and-trade system should be allocated (summary here). The basic principles are that most of the allocations should be auctioned off, and about three-quarters of the proceeds should be given back to households in the form of tax cuts or dividend checks, allowing families to cope with any increases in energy prices that result from emissions caps. This, of course, is a far cry from Waxman-Markey, which starts off by giving most allocations to polluting industries, but is closer to the bill introduced by Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins in the Senate.
The difference seems to be that in California, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 mandated the creation of a cap-and-trade system (to get California to 1990 emissions levels by 2020) and handed the implementation details to the California Air Resources Board, which commissioned a panel of economists, public policy people, and businessmen to work out the details. (The Board is not bound to accept their recommendation, however.) So this is a contrast between letting regulators set rules and having Congressmen set rules. (In our current Congress, the latter gives coal-state Democrats an effective veto, since the Republicans will not provide significant votes to any Obama administration proposal.) In other contexts I’ve argued that regulators should not have too much discretion, but here it may turn out to be a better approach.
By James Kwak