Environment & Science

Arizona won't trade carbon in California-led Western Climate Initiative

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California leads a regional greenhouse gas market that’s just gotten a little smaller. Arizona has said it will not take part the Western Climate Initiative's cap and trade plans because that state's economy is struggling. KPCC's Molly Peterson reports on what that might mean for climate policy in the West.

The Western Climate Initiative includes seven U.S. states and four Canadian provinces that have pledged to slow global warming through shared efforts. California Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman BreAnda Northcutt says some of that work will go on. "Arizona is still a valued member of the Western Climate Initiative and we will continue to work together to grow green jobs, promote clean technology and expand renewable energy in the Western region."

UCLA environmental law professor Ann Carlson agrees the initiative has other projects – inventorying climate impacts among them. "I have to say though, the cap and trade program for the Western Climate Initiative is the centerpiece, and so it's not small news to have a state drop out of it," she says.

Carlson counsels against overplaying the news of Arizona's departure from the initiative. Still, she says the move by Arizona – a state with a fast-growing economy – could be big news if other states face similar choices amid a slow economic recovery. Like California.

"One of the reasons that the Arizona governor gives for backing out of the WCI cap and trade program is that it's the wrong time economically, so forth," she says. "We're hearing similar arguments in California from Republican gubernatorial candidates about the implementation of California's cap and trade and broader climate legislation."

Environmental and economic concerns will play out on November's ballot, Carlson says. Beyond the governor's race, some initiatives may gain enough steam to make it to a vote. If one group of activists has its way, California voters could consider a ballot measure this year that would suspend the state's landmark climate change legislation until the unemployment rate drops and holds steady at 5 percent.