The two biggest concerns about domestic offsets in climate legislation — the possibility they will be riddled with fraud and/or that they will overwhelm the “genuine” emissions reductions — are I think, largely unwarranted. The fact that Waxman-Markey potentially allows a substantial amount of domestic offsets is no reason whatsoever oppose it.
I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. And, yes, I have a 2-year-old daughter who likes Dr. Seuss.
But, seriously, there are two fundamental reasons I urge people not to buy offsets:
- The market is unregulated, so you have no idea what you are buying. And most every time the media — or I — look into a specific offset, it turns out to be a project that would’ve happened anyway or, worse, had already been up and running for years. In short, your money is unlikely to be bringing about new emissions reductions. Thus you aren’t “offsetting” anything.
- This country has no cap on emissions. Therefore, offsets don’t add up to anything. They don’t assuredly take you off the business-as-usual emissions path. It is wonderful to promote new wind projects — although the vast majority of wind-related offsets probably don’t do that (see “Schendler Part II: Good RECs vs. Bad RECs“) — but absent a cap on emissions, that project doesn’t necessarily actually lead to any net emissions reductions.
If, however, we passed comprehensive energy and climate legislation like Waxman-Markey, we would immediately solve both of those problems. Yes, on paper, Waxman-Markey allows polluters to purchase some 1 billion tons of domestic offsets (see bill summary here), which is nearly 15% of total U.S. emissions. And that seems like it would vitiate the near-term target of a 20% emissions cut in 2020.
But the EPA, in its preliminary modeling of the bill (here), finds that only a small fraction of that billion tons of domestic offsets would in fact ever be used, as this figure shows: