Wednesday, April 25, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 7

Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on July 10th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 18 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 18

Don't breathe easy, California


E.B. White wrote, in Charlotte’s Web, that crickets chirped “Summer is dying, dying.” That’s one of the reasons I never invite any of those bugs to my parties. They’re so maudlin. That, and they tend to not use coasters.

But here we are, post-heat-wave, post-fireworks. Sunburned skin has either deepened to a tan or is peeling and flaking away. Baseball players are rounding third. The graduation caps have been recovered from that after-diploma toss and have been tucked away in cardboard boxes—or cut up into some sort of precious memory-provoking thingamajig to promote on Pinterest.

Yeah. Summer is dying. Thanks a lot, crickets. Now I’m depressed.

And I don’t even know where my graduation cap is. I seem to remember my mom cutting it up to make … coasters. Which a certain insect group apparently can’t see, so they leave wet rings on your heirloom buffet when they set their sweaty glasses there. You’d think crickets would drink grasshoppers or something, but in my experience, they mostly go for rum and Coke.

Anyway, with caps on my mind and the recent heat wave of summer’s downhill slide, my thoughts—naturally—turned to greenhouse gas emissions and California’s efforts to get those floating pollutants down to 1990 levels by 2020.

As part of this effort, the state set up what’s known as a “cap and trade” auction, meaning it’s capped the amount of heat-promoting gases that can issue from California entities, which can reduce their emissions and trade that reduction for prizes. Or something. I think I’m close with that definition.

Actually, as best I understand it, companies that aren’t doing so well when it comes to keeping the smoke or whatever from billowing so freely can buy credits in an auction, essentially giving them the right to keep polluting as long as they open their wallets far enough.

How does this work? Take a look at this little press release I made up (though I changed all references to pollution to references about breaking the law; I think you’ll see why):

“Hey, everybody! Don’t commit crime! It’s bad!

“We’re trying to reduce crime on the whole to make a better world, but that’s just so hard. But we are working on it. What with crowded prisons and packed jails and recidivism and all that, we want to get it down to manageable levels by 2020.

“Of course, there are some people who committed crimes once and were arrested for it, and then they got let out on good behavior. So there’s all this theoretical incarceration time lying around with nobody using it. We’re talking years of it. Decades. Centuries.

“So until we can stop crime from ruining other people’s lives, if you want to, say, knock over a gas station or bust a few windows on your frenemy’s house, go ahead and buy some of those unused behind-bars credits.

“That’s right. Keep doing the thing we don’t want you to do any more. Go ahead. If you pay us for it, we’ll give you this nothing in return and call it square, because other people are cleaning up their acts, and you should benefit from that—beyond the good it does to all of us as a whole, we mean.

“We know it’s hard to stop doing what you’re doing, especially if it’s your livelihood. So don’t. Yet. Maybe someday. But not now. It’s OK.

“We take personal checks and all major credit cards.”

Ha! Get it? I’m being ironic!

I’m as much for staving off global warming as the next enviro-nut—and I use that term with pride—but am I the only one who finds this cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gases a bit nutty? (I don’t mean that one as a compliment.)

These days, I’ve been hearing about banks filled with credits meant to offset ozone. If you, as a company, are making too many smog ingredients, you can just go to the bank and buy up some credits—if there are any. Supply and demand is apparently fully in effect, meaning one credit in Santa Barbara County—and I’ll admit I have no idea exactly what that one credit specifically represents, but it seems to be a ton (literally) of a specific gas—costs $115,000. I’ve seen that same gas going for $8,000 a ton in the Bay Area, and as low as $1,300 in Imperial County.

After digging a bit, I found a price of $48,000 per ton in Santa Barbara County in 2012, but that was for a total of 25 tons of the stuff (HC, I’m guessing hydrocarbons), so maybe it was a bulk rate. And talk about bulk. This is essentially air we’re discussing, so it takes a lot to get together a ton of it—let alone 25.

We’re running out of credits. Which is making them costly. And then what? Is there a pollution bubble that will burst, making tons of ozone as worthless as stocks and real estate back in 2008? Sorry, but when banks enter the mix, my mind goes to dark places.

Look, if it’s working, it’s working. If this is making our air cleaner and our lungs healthier, I guess I can’t really complain. Much. Since this whole idea really got underway recently and is kicking into high gear even now, we sort of have to wait and see, I suppose.

But as I was typing this very column, my editor forwarded me a press release from the National Federation of Independent Business, which recently filed a motion challenging California’s cap-and-trade auctions as illegal and an unconstitutional tax. If this legal wrangling ends in fines, I don’t think California will be able to pay them off with balloons filled with methane.


The Canary is holding her breath. Send comments (or ideas) to

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