Dear Washington State Senate,

As communities of color affected by climate change and environmental injustice, we call for real reductions of pollution directly at the source. And for that very reason, we call for a rejection of Cap-and-Trade and other forms of carbon market mechanisms. Climate change policy goals must protect the environment and all people, starting with those first and worst impacted by the pollution and poverty, and the industries causing climate change must be held accountable. 

Not only do Cap-and-Trade programs avoid addressing the root causes of this climate crisis, they have not shown any measurable results in actually reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to-date. As carbon trading was originally designed and promoted by industry lobby groups, such as the US Climate Action Partnership, a growing number of critics contend that such schemes were made to fail in the first place. We are greatly disappointed that year after year, Cap and Trade policies have been proposed in Washington State, and we urge you all to support real climate solutions instead.

What is Cap-and-Trade?

Cap-and-Trade is a generic term for “market-based” schemes introduced for and by major climate-polluting corporations, Exxon, BP, and Chevron, in order to claim that they are taking meaningful steps to limit and (over time) reduce their GHG emissions. 

In reality, such schemes are designed to provide the major polluters a large degree of flexibility to ensure their profits and investments are protected, while they seek “business friendly” ways to reduce their carbon loads. Not only do these schemes fail to reduce carbon in any meaningful way, they often serve to increase harm to those communities living next to oil refineries, fossil fuel power plants and other carbon-intensive industries. Under Cap-and-Trade, fossil fuel industries in particular have continued (and increased) their operation of burning fossil fuels and releasing climate pollution. 

Cap-and-Trade harm frontline communities. 

Cap-and-Trade systems exacerbate pollution inequities. In its first three years of operation, California’s trading scheme increased pollution burdens in a number of Black, Brown and poor communities across the state. Cap-and-Trade systems (eg: various carbon offsets and energy credit programs) provide a spectrum of subsidies to polluting industries that are disproportionately sited in environmental justice communities, such as cement kilns, waste incinerators, and various petro-chemical industries.

Over two-thirds of California’s low-income African Americans and about 60% of low-income Latinos and Asian/Pacific Islanders live within six miles of a facility, whose pollution burdens have not been reduced in the years of this program. Lastly, offsets have allowed polluters to avoid making local emission reductions. The emissions of these industrial facilities include many toxic co-pollutants that cause direct health impacts, such as cancer and respiratory problems.

Cap-and-Trade subsidizes major polluters, entrenching their power and profits.  

Cap levels and trading rules are the product of endless lobbying by companies and countries trying to retain their high allowances. A wide variety of dirty energy industries have been funded to expand their market shares through Cap-and-Trade, including coal, oil and gas companies who wish to carry on polluting.  Climate polluting corporations have never been benevolent actors in the struggle for climate justice — there is a living history of industry pouring unprecedented amounts of money to defeat policy initiatives that sought to address climate change. Any so-called climate policy that these industries champion (and often design), must be met with not only skepticism, but vocal opposition.

Cap-and-Trade allows transnational corporations to profit at the cost of worker livelihoods and poor communities around the world. 

The Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was designed to allow wealthy countries to buy cheaper carbon reductions in developing countries instead of making emission cuts at home. As a result, a number of dirty, extractive industries were financed in poor nations like India, Brazil and South Africa, impacting local livelihoods and economies. 

Carbon offsets programs like the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) have allowed oil and gas companies to save millions by investing in forest carbon projects that have actually displaced Indigenous communities and poor farmers in places like Chiapas (Mexico) and Acre (Brazil). 

Cap-and-Trade prevents trillions of dollars from being invested in proven, equitable and just climate solutions. 

Given how low the markets set carbon price to incentivize “industry innovation”, there is little incentive for dirty energy corporations to invest in renewable energy infrastructure and other long term structural changes for a post-carbon economy. Instead of subsidizing polluting corporations with billions of taxpayer dollars, other legal measures could be enacted to invest public funds into proven and affordable climate solutions like zero waste, ecosystem restoration, community-choice energy, public transportation, community housing and localized food markets.  Our opposition to Cap-and-Trade is not an allegiance to right-wing climate denial. And our calls for bold action – eg: stopping climate pollution at the source (which Cap-and-Trade fails to do) – must provide stability and justice for people that work in the fossil fuel industry.  

Lastly, and most importantly, Cap-and-Trade schemes do not work. 

While none of the existing Cap-and-Trade schemes have shown any measurable progress, studies of California’s Cap and Trade Program, conducted by UC Berkeley, University of Southern California, Occidental College, and San Francisco State University found that California’s Cap-and-Trade program has not resulted in GHG or co-pollutant decreases in California’s EJ communities. In the recent Propublica article by Lisa Song, “Cap and Trade is supposed to solve climate change but oil and gas emissions are up,” questions are raised about whether market solutions anywhere can do the work that is needed to take meaningful climate action.

The Washington State Senate must reject any current and future proposals of cap and trade, offset programs, and other carbon market schemes being proposed in Washington State, if we are truly to become a leader in climate action. If these schemes do become law in Washington State, they will be implemented on the backs of our communities, and will make the fossil fuel industry wealthier and more powerful.

Do you choose to stand in solidarity with environmental justice communities, communities of color, indigenous people, youth, and workers who are most impacted by climate change or with the big fossil fuel companies, like BP, Chevron, and Exxon? 


Got Green
Community to Community Development
Familias Unidas por La Justicia
Puget Sound Sage
Sunrise Movement Seattle


Reference Materials  

Carbon Pricing – A Critical Perspective for Community Resistance, 2017:

Paying to Pollute: The Environmental Injustice of Pollution Trading, 2017:

Why Pollution Trading Will Never be the Climate Solution for California, or Anywhere Else, Alternet, 2017:

Trends & Projections in the EU ETS in 2016:

A preliminary Environmental Equity Assessment of California’s Cap and Trade Program:

Cap-and-trade? Not so great if you are black or brown, Grist, 2016:

Emissions Trading – 5 reasons to scrap the ETS, Corporate EU Observatory Site, 2015:

Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False Solutions to Climate Change, 2009:

Environmental Justice Matters to Address Climate Change: California EJ Group Statement against AB 32, 2009:

Carbon Trading – A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatization and Power, 2006:

Cap and Trade is Supposed to Solve Climate Change But Oil and Gas Emissions are Up, 2019:

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