On Monday Representative Kirsten Gillibrand became the first American to permanently retire carbon dioxide pollution allowances from a government-mandated carbon dioxide reduction program. She did it through the Cool Park/Healthy Planet Program [no web page that I could find!] created by the Adirondack Council to prevent thousands of tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted by power plants from Maine to Delaware.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first government-mandated carbon dioxide control program in the United States. It requires power plant emissions reductions in New York and nine other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States. Over a period of years, the 10 states will steadily reduce their power plant carbon emissions through a “cap-and-trade” program.
Each year, every power plant in the region must purchase one “carbon allowance” for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. Each year, the number of allowances available at auction is reduced, until the emissions reduction goal is reached (10 percent in the region by 2019). Rules governing the RGGI’s auctions require all bidders to purchase at least 1,000 tons’ worth of allowances, or a minimum investment of more than $3,000 for the inaugural auction in September. In order to make it more manageable for private citizens (and no doubt as a fundraising tool), the Adirondack Council has begun offering the public the opportunity to retire allowances in groups of three tons each for $25.
As supplies are reduced, the price will rise, making it more affordable for power plant owners to eliminate carbon emissions than to continue buying allowances. In an effort to speed this process, the Adirondack Council participated in the September kick-off auction alongside the power plants and bought 1,000 tons’ worth of allowances.
To put the sales in perspective, a person would have to take two round-trip flights from New York to Rome to generate three tons of carbon dioxide. Seven tons is equal to burning 721 gallons of gasoline (about a year’s worth), or about one year’s worth of electricity use for an average American (according to the US Environmental Protection Agency).
Carbon Reduction Certificate donations to the Council are fully tax-deductible. The Council doesn’t sell the allowances to the donor, but rather retires them in the donor’s name (or the name they choose). The certificates have no cash value – they are simply proof of a good deed toward a healthier environment. The Adirondack Council is tax-exempt, federally registered (501c3) charitable organization.
This program is different from the existing “carbon offset” programs, where the buyer is never sure whether the action undertaken (tree-planting, methane collection, etc.) is having a measurable effect. The US Government Accountability Office issued a report in August criticizing such offset programs.