In recent months, as the start date of the new cap-and-trade program neared, California regulators have fine-tuned the rules, industry by industry, to avoid imposing severe economic hardship while trying to keep the rules stringent. It is a delicate balance. Regulators do not want California companies to lose their competitive edge, because that could make other state governments reluctant to adopt this approach.
Cement plants near Los Angeles compete with plants across the Arizona border. State tomato processors control more than 95 percent of the American market, but they fear that the fast-growing Chinese sector could make inroads.
Officials in affected industries acknowledge they are struggling with how to proceed. As Meredith Fowlie, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, explained, “Their calculations have to be that we either sit here and emit and pay the cost of doing so, or alternatively we can look at options” like paying for major capital improvements to reduce emissions.
The state’s Air Resources Board is using an array of policies to reach its intended goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It has tried to structure the cap-and-trade program to encourage industry investment in energy efficiency that could cut costs as well as lower emissions. Investing in energy efficiency may make sense for companies under California’s rules, Dr. Fowlie said, “but if they are making them before their competitors, that could be fatal.”
The rules are relatively simple for producers like Morning Star. At the end of 2014, they must present state-issued allowances — one per metric ton of emissions — for the greenhouse gases they emitted in 2013.
For the 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually by Morning Star’s three plants, the company is being awarded about 192,500 free allowances the first year; the company must buy the remainder on the open market. In the first allowance auction in November, the allowance price settled at $10.09 a ton, meaning in the first year Morning Star has to pay roughly $75,000 to cover its emissions.
But over the next five years, the number of free allowances will decrease sharply to encourage further emissions cuts. At current rates, that means Morning Star will have to buy 100,000 allowances for both 2017 and 2018, by which time the prices may have doubled or tripled in an open market. The company estimates the law will cost it an extra $20 million over the next seven years.
Nick Kastle, a company spokesman, said it would almost certainly pass on the new costs to makers of ketchup and frozen pizza, which would be likely to share the extra costs with consumers. “People nationwide are going to be affected by AB 32,” he said.
But, isn't that the point? Passing on (some of*) the costs of pollution to consumers encourages consumers to use less of the polluting product.
*Note: Producers aren't able to pass on all of the costs of pollution control. If producers could pass on all of the costs they wouldn't fight so hard to try to avoid them, right? The magnitude of the incidence of regulatory costs depends on demand and supply elasticity.