Attorneys general say feds should regulate carbon trading markets

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(Host) Concern about global warming is prompting a growing number of consumers to buy credits that offset the pollution they create in their daily lives.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd explains, attorneys general in ten states believe the practice is becoming so popular that it should be regulated by the federal government.

(Sneyd) The attorneys general in Vermont and California are leading the initiative.

They’ve asked the Federal Trade Commission to develop guidelines for businesses that sell credits to consumers who want to offset their carbon emissions.

Elliot Burg is coordinating the initiative for the Vermont attorney general’s office. He says the market for carbon offsets is expected to explode from $100 million today to $4 billion in three to four years.

(Burg) “And it’s really important right now that the standards be in place so that the market has integrity.”

(Sneyd) Here’s how carbon trading works. Say you’re planning a trip across the country.

A calculation can be made to determine your share of the pollution that will be created to get you to your destination and back. You can buy a “carbon credit” to offset that pollution. The money you spend is then invested in some kind of project that’s supposed to reduce pollution somewhere else.

Burg says as the market grows, somebody needs to keep an eye on whether you’re really getting what you’re paying for.

(Burg) “If you pay money to have trees planted in a particular place as a way of offsetting your own carbon emissions, you need to know that those trees are not going to be sequestering carbon until they mature to any substantial extent. So you may be buying a carbon offset that’s not going to be in full flower until 10 or 20 or 30 years down the road.”

(Sneyd) Besides that, those trees could be cut down before they’re mature. So Burg says the carbon credit should have a guarantee that the trees will be standing by the time they could begin absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.

That’s why the attorneys general say a national standard is needed.

They say the Federal Trade Commission already regulates environmental marketing claims and has been looking into whether that should be expanded to carbon credits.

The attorneys general say the FTC could also begin educating consumers about carbon markets. And they already have the first lesson in mind: Consumers can do more to help the environment by avoiding pollution in the first place so they don’t have to buy credits to offset it.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

(Host) One of the companies that sells carbon credits is Native Energy in Charlotte. Executives at Native Energy say they’re not advocating federal regulation. But they say they’re preparing for it and can already answer all of the questions that the attorneys general raise.


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