Dan Walters

Dan Walters

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Dan Walters: California begins huge experiment in greenhouse gas regulation

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 - 10:09 am

It probably wasn't happenstance that California's historic – good or bad, it's historic – experiment in greenhouse gas regulation was delayed until after an election in which voters would be deciding on new taxes.

Any debate over the consumers' costs of greenhouse gas reduction could have, at least theoretically, negatively influenced voters on tax increases – and there will be costs.

The state this week begins auctioning off greenhouse gas emission credits, thereby generating billions of dollars that politicians will spend on programs supposedly connected to reducing global warming.

Those billions will, at least in the short run, be absorbed by industrial and other businesses that must buy those credits and will, to the extent possible, pass on those costs to their customers.

Thus the cost of doing business in California, already among the nation's highest, will increase.

Mary Nichols, who chairs the Air Resources Board, and other advocates of cap and trade contend that in the long run, the business costs will be mitigated by savings from greater operational efficiencies, and that an entirely new green economy base will be created to the ultimate benefit of the state.

But those are unproven theories, because California is traipsing where few have gone before. And an equally valid theory is that the state, which is already suffering from a stagnant economy and very high unemployment, will hamstring itself in the global competition for investment capital.

Nichols, et al., even have a phrase that describes the potential economic downside – "leakage." But that is a sterile word to describe what happens when human beings lose their jobs or can't find new ones.

Nor are the costs of carbon credits, whatever they are, the only impact.

California's utility costs are already among the highest in the nation. A report by BC Hydro, British Columbia's utility, that delves into power bills at all levels of usage reveals that only a very few places in North America have higher utility costs than does California.

Another aspect of California's anti-global warming program, however, requires the state's utilities to get a third of their power from "renewable" sources such as solar and wind that are markedly more expensive than traditional, fossil fuel sources.

The Public Utilities Commission staff and the utilities themselves have warned that the transition will sharply increase bills.

Californians also pay more than most other Americans for gasoline and diesel fuel, thanks to our unique refining requirements, and the Air Resources Board is pushing refiners to go even further toward "clean fuels," which will be more costly.

This is a huge experiment in altering Californians' economy and lifestyles.

Whether it pans out or not, the short-run costs will be immense.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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