12/29/14 07:18 PM
After months of seeing gas prices sink ever lower, Californians will ring in 2015 by paying more at the pump as a result of the state’s landmark greenhouse-gas emissions law.
But how much more we’ll pay, and whether it’s worth it, remains bitterly debated among oil companies, some state lawmakers and environmentalists.
Starting Thursday, gasoline and diesel producers will be subject to the state’s cap-and-trade system, forcing them either to supply lower-carbon fuels — which are more expensive to produce — or to buy pollution permits for the greenhouse gases created when the conventional fuel they supply is burned. In the short term, at least, that will mean higher prices at the pump, starting almost immediately.
“My understanding from the economists that we’ve talked to is that it will be very quick, sometime in January — if not on the first, then shortly thereafter,” said Dave Clegern, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.
Opposition groups backed by the oil industry have claimed prices will rise 16 to 76 cents per gallon, although that’s admittedly based on an underlying price of about $4 per gallon — far higher than recent prices. A UC-Berkeley energy and economics expert says it’ll be more like nine or ten cents per gallon, which supporters say isn’t so high a price to pay for the environmental good it will do.
Some Democrats want to delay the program; most Republicans want to stop it entirely. But at present, there is little prospect of either happening, given the Brown administration’s strong support of the program, which is enshrined in an eight-year-old law.
“A lot of Californians still don’t know this is coming,” said state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, who has a bill to exempt transportation fuels from the cap-and-trade requirements. “It’s going to hurt the poorest people in the state … Gasoline is not a luxury, it’s essential for folks.”
But the Air Resources Board says the state’s plan to ease climate change would be gutted without the program, and delaying it would only delay the incentive for oil companies to produce cleaner fuels.