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US contends California's cap-and-trade agreement with Quebec unconstitutional

by Angela Stelmakowich
EcoLog, 10/25/2019 1:15:00 PM

A much-touted cap-and-trade deal between Quebec and California has come under fire, with a newly filed civil complaint arguing the state overstepped its authority by entering into an international agreement, something that is the sole discretion of the U.S. federal government. 

In what some view as a bid to dismantle California’s emission-trading market, the lawsuit “asks the court to uphold the exclusive role of the federal government in conducting our foreign policy by declaring the agreement — and related statutes and regulations — unconstitutional, and enjoining their operation.” 

Filed October 23, 2019 in the Eastern District of California, the complaint names the state, several of its officers, the California Air Resources Board and the Western Climate Initiative, Inc., which facilitates the agreement and whose board is run by California and Quebec governmental actors. 

“The power to enter into such agreements is reserved to the federal government, which must be able to speak with one voice in the area of U.S. foreign policy,” Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division noted in a statement. 

The 2013 agreement and supporting California law “have the effect of undermining the President’s ability to negotiate competitive international agreements in the area of environmental policy. This is particularly true if California were to make similar arrangements with other foreign powers, or if other states were to do so,” the complaint reads, adding the Western Climate Initiative, Inc. board includes officials from Quebec, Nova Scotia and California. 

The lawsuit drew immediate fire from California Governor Gavin Newsom. “The White House is yet again continuing its political vendetta against California, our climate policies and the health of our communities. Carbon pollution knows no borders, and the Trump administration’s abysmal record of denying climate change and propping up big polluters makes cross-border collaboration all the more necessary.” 

In Quebec, Premier François Legault told reporters outside the Legislative Assembly that he would prefer California remained in the system, but suggested there are a number of alternate U.S. suitors who might want to join the agreement. 

Robert N. Stavins, a professor of energy and economic development at Harvard University, noted in a tweet: “My gosh, what is the Trump administration trying to accomplish? This silly move against sensible climate policy will drive up costs for U.S. & Canadian companies and consumers.”

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