To help reduce SO2 emission the clean air act of 1990 authorizes an emissions trading program, which enables polluting power plants in 21 states to buy and sell SO2 pollution rights.
Each year a coal burning power plant is given a certain number of credits or rights that allow it to emit a certain amount of SO2. A company that emits less SO2 than its limit has a surplus of pollution credits. It can use these credits to avoid reductions in SO2 emission at another of its plants, keep them for future plant expansions, or sell them to other utility companies, private citizens or Environmental Groups.
Proponents argue that this system allows the market to determine the cheapest most efficient way to get the job done instead of having the government dictate how to control air pollution. Some environmentalists see the “cap and trade” market approach as an improvement over the regulatory “command and control” approach as long as it achieves a net reduction in SO2 pollution. That goal would be accomplished by limiting the total number of credits and gradually lowering emissions caps or annual number of credits as has been done since 2000.
An interesting thing about the SO2 emissions market is that anyone can participate. Environmental groups can buy up such rights to pollute and not use them. You could personally reduce air pollution by buying a certificate allowing you to add0.9 metric ton of SO2 to the atmosphere and hanging it on your wall. You can purchase these certificates and give them away as birthday or holiday gifts. See www.epa.gov/airmarkets/ for a list of brokers and other sellers of SO2 permits.
As with any program, there are critics of the “cap and trade” program. Some critics contend that it allows utilities with older, dirtier power plants to buy their way out of their environmental responsibilities and continue emitting unacceptable levels of SO2. This practice could lead to continuing high levels of air pollution in certain areas or “hot spots”.
The cap and trade program also creates incentives to cheat b/c air quality regulation is based largely on self reporting of emissions. Environmentalists call for unannounced spot monitoring by government agents and larger fines for cheaters.
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