April 11th, 2017 by Elizabeth Pollock
In a 2-1 opinion, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld the auction-sale component of the cap-and-trade program created by the State Air Resources Board pursuant to the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (“AB 32”). (California Chamber of Commerce et al. v. State Air Resources Board et al. (2017) ___Cal.App.5th___ (Case No. C075930).)
As part of its regulations to implement AB 32, the State Air Resources Board created the California Cap on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Market-Based Compliance Mechanisms, referred to as the ‘cap-and-trade program.’ The program imposes a cap on aggregate greenhouse gas emissions. Covered entities must either reduce their emissions below a threshold point or obtain offset credits or emissions allowances at the Board’s quarterly auctions or in a secondary market. Allowances are tradable, so participants can buy, bank, or sell them. Proceeds from the Board’s auction sales are kept in a fund to further AB 32’s purposes. Plaintiffs California Chamber of Commerce and Morning Star Packing Company filed two separate lawsuits challenging the regulations and the court consolidated the cases. The trial court ruled in favor of the Air Resources Board and both plaintiffs appealed.
The Court of Appeal considered two arguments: (1) whether the auction sales exceed the Legislature’s delegation of authority to the Board, and (2) whether the revenue generated by the auction sales amounts to a tax that violates the two-thirds vote requirement of Proposition 13. With respect to Plaintiffs’ first argument, the court considered whether the auction program is “(1) consistent and not in conflict with the statute and (2) reasonably necessary to effectuate the purpose of the statute.” The court held that by allowing the Board to design regulations that include “distribution of emissions allowances,” the Legislature gave broad discretion to determine how to implement the statute, and the auctioning of allowances does not exceed the scope of the delegation. In addition, the court found that the Legislature later ratified the auction system when it directed how to use the proceeds therefrom.
With respect to Plaintiffs’ second argument, the court found that the auction sales do not equate to a tax. Proposition 13 requires that any change in a State tax must be passed by a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature. Sinclair Paint Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization (1997) 15 Cal.4th 866 is the leading authority on application of Prop 13, but contrary to the ruling of the lower court, the Court of Appeal found the test from that case was inapplicable here. According to the court, Sinclair Paint did not hold that it applies to any “revenue generating measure.” Instead, Sinclair Paint sets forth rules to evaluate purported regulatory fees to determine whether they are taxes subject to Proposition 13. The Board’s cap-and-trade regulations do not purport to impose a regulatory fee, but instead call for the auction of allowances, which the court explained is an entirely different system. Thus, the Court of Appeal found, Sinclair Paint did not apply.
Because Sinclair Paint did not apply, the court looked to the general test for whether something is a “tax” subject to Proposition 13. The court explained that the hallmarks of a tax are: (1) it is compulsory, and (2) the payor receives nothing of particular value for payment. The court found that, regardless of the fact that the cap-and-trade program may increase the cost of doing business in California, the purchase of allowances through the Board’s auction is voluntary; businesses must simply make the judgment whether it is more beneficial to the company to make the purchase required by the program than to reduce emissions. In addition, the court emphasized that no entity has a vested right to pollute. Once purchased, the allowances are valuable, tradable commodities, conferring on the holder the privilege to pollute the air. Thus, the court found that participation in the auction system is voluntary and the purchaser receives a specific thing of value, so the auction system does not impose a tax.
Justice Hull concurred with the majority’s analysis of the first question, but disagreed with the second part of the opinion. In a lengthy dissent, Justice Hull argued that the cap-and-trade program is a tax because: (1) the purchase of auction credits by certain businesses is not voluntary, (2) the auction credits do not confer property rights, and (3) the use of the auction proceeds must be considered for determining whether a State exaction is a tax. Thus, Justice Hull concluded that the program is a “tax” of sorts, and because it was not passed by a 2/3 vote of the State Legislature, it violates Proposition 13.
March 6th, 2017 by Christina Berglund
In January 2017, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released the Draft 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update. The Proposed Scoping Plan identifies the overall strategy to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—the target codified in SB 32. The strategy requires contributions from all economic sectors and includes a combination of extending key reduction programs and new actions that would prioritize direct emissions reductions.
The Proposed Scoping Plan continues the cap-and-trade program through 2030. The analysis in the plan finds that cap-and-trade is the lowest cost, most efficient policy approach to meeting the 2030 goal. According to the analysis, even if other measures fall short, cap-and-trade provides certainty that California will meet the 2030 target emissions reduction. The agency is also evaluating potential changes to the cap-and-trade program to “support greater direct GHG emissions reductions.” Under evaluation are measures which include reducing the offset usage limit, redesigning the allocation strategy to support increased technology and energy investments to reduce GHG emissions, and reducing allocation for entities with criteria or toxic emissions that exceed a predetermined baseline.
Other key components of the overall approach include: a 20 percent reduction in GHG emissions from the refinery sector; continued investment in renewable energy; efforts to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants; and increased focus on zero- and near-zero emission vehicle technologies.
CARB is currently seeking comments on the Proposed Scoping Plan. The comment period was recently extended until April 10, 2017. A public board meeting on the Final Proposed Scoping Plan is scheduled for June 22-23, 2017.
January 7th, 2014 by Gwynne Hunter
Governor Jerry Brown would like to fund a portion of California’s high-speed rail project with proceeds from cap-and-trade fees. Brown plans to propose directing millions of dollars garnered from carbon producers’ fees toward the $68 billion project. The governor would allocate hundreds of millions of dollars in 2014 alone.
California has already acquired $3.4 billion in federal funding to start constructing the rail. Project opponents, however, have challenged complementary state bond funding in court, creating a potential funding gap. In High Speed Rail Authority v. All Persons Interested, the Sacramento Superior Court declined to validate High Speed Rail Authority’s attempt to issue more than eight billion dollars in bonds to start construction. Construction, however, is still slated to begin early this year.
Governor Brown’s proposal will likely be included as part of his annual budget plan that will be released Friday, January 10, 2014.
December 12th, 2013 by Gwynne Hunter
The Air Resources Board (ARB) has announced that California and the Quebec province are scheduled to link their cap-and-trade programs on January 1, 2014.
Quebec recently held its first auction for cap-and-trade allowances. ARB Chairman Mary Nichols praised the Canadian province for its hard work developing a cap-and-trade program and bringing about the successful auction. She stated that linking the regions’ programs will “show our respective nations, and the world, how states and provinces can work together to reduce greenhouse gases and fight climate change.”
A joint auction is expected later in 2014.
November 9th, 2012 by admin
On November 14, 2012, the California Air Resources Board will conduct its first quarterly auction for greenhouse gas allowances under the cap-and-trade program, which is identified in the Assembly Bill 32 Scoping Plan as one of the strategies California will employ to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
In 2006, the Legislature passed and Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In complying with AB 32, CARB prepared a Scoping Plan identifying a cap-and-trade program as one of the strategies California will use to reduce the GHG emissions that cause climate change. The cap-and-trade program places a limit on the GHG emissions allowed from pollution producers like refineries and cement manufacturers, and directs all entities subject to the cap (covered entities) to surrender “compliance instruments” equivalent to their GHG emissions to CARB. Compliance instruments include both allowances, which are allocated by CARB or obtained from auctions or secondary markets, and offset credits, which represent GHG emissions reductions achieved in sectors that are not subject to the cap.
This year, the cap-and-trade program covers about 350 industrial businesses operating a total of 600 facilities throughout the state. They include cement plants, steel mills, food processors, electric utilities, and refineries. Starting in 2015, the program will also cover distributors of natural gas and other fuels. For the first two years of the cap-and-trade program, covered entities will receive 90 percent of their allowances for free, with the free amount and the cap declining over time. Covered entities must either cut their GHG production to that level or buy credits to make up the difference. Companies that have more credits than they need can sell them at the auction, and CARB will sell additional credits as well. The proceeds from CARB’s sale of allowances sold at auction will be deposited in CARB’s Air Pollution Control Fund, awaiting appropriation by the Legislature.
The November 14, 2012, auction is the first, major step for CARB in implementing the cap-and-trade program. Though there remains strong opposition to the program from those businesses required to participate in it, CARB’s completion of this first auction signifies its commitment and readiness to enforce compliance with the cap-and-trade program when it comes online in January 2013.