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California Puts a Price on Carbon

PHOTO: A gasifier at Sierra Energy transforms waste into fuel. Courtesy of Sierra Energy.
PHOTO: A gasifier at Sierra Energy transforms waste into fuel. Courtesy of Sierra Energy.
November 20, 2012

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Pollution now has a price tag in the Golden State. The California Air Resources Board has released the results of the state's first-ever cap-and-trade carbon auction. At a price of just nine cents over the ten-dollar minimum, officials say the auction proves that California can reduce greenhouse gas emissions at an affordable cost.

Dallas Burtraw, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, is one of the nation's foremost experts in the field.

"I think the results from California's first auction indicate that the emission-reductions goals of the state are going to be attainable, and at a cost that's less than many observers had anticipated."

Critics had complained the cap-and-trade auction was just a way to tax big business, and the California Chamber of Commerce recently sued the state to stop the program. Under the landmark law AB-32, big polluters must "cap" the amount of pollution they produce, or else buy or "trade" carbon credits or invest in new equipment that reduces their pollution.

Mike Hart is CEO of a company that uses garbage to create carbon credits. "Sierra Energy" transforms trash into "syngas," which can then be turned into electricity or clean diesel fuel that Hart says is 20 times cleaner than the California fuel standard.

"We're unique in that we're doing it in a way that you can take any waste stream. You can take medical waste, garbage coming just off a regular household, hazardous waste, or construction and demolition debris. Any of these waste streams can be put into our gasifier and turned into clean energy."

He says his company would still be doing business without AB-32, although the legislation is allowing his and other clean-energy companies to progress much more rapidly.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA