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Judge Stalls California Cap-and-Trade Program

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) violated state environmental law when it charged ahead with its plan to rein in greenhouse gas emissions through a cap-and-trade program, a federal judge ruled.

CARB should have considered alternatives to the cap-and-trade program that is the centerpiece of its effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, according to California Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith. The ruling finalizes a tentative decision in late January that concluded the state violated the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved a Scoping Plan to carry out the state's climate change law.

It is unclear how the ruling would effect other measures in the Scoping Plan, according to CARB Spokesman Stanley Young. CARB is in communication with the environmental groups that filed the lawsuit that led to the ruling in an attempt to narrow the scope of the court order, also known as a Writ of Mandate, Young said.

"We don't want a broadly-worded writ that would impact other measures of the Scoping Plan," Young said. In any case, CARB plans to appeal the decision.

The development adds a wrinkle to the state's plan to begin the cap-and-trade program next January. CARB, however, must vote on the cap-and-trade program in October; failure to do so could set the process back significantly.

"If we resolve ths expeditiously, we would want to move forward on the same time frame," Young said.

The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by several environmental justice groups that believe a cap-and-trade program would allow companies to continue polluting in poor neighborhoods by buying their way out of reducing their emissions.

A cap-and-trade program essentially puts a price on carbon and forces polluters to trade emissions permits. If they reduce their emissions, they can sell excess permits for a profit. If they pollute more than their allotted amount, they have to buy extra permits on the open market.

The petitioners told Greenwire they would not be satisfied until the cap-and-trade program is removed from the Scoping Plan, and instead want direct regulation.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user steakpinball.

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