Discussion Paper

The Mixed History of EPA Management of Banked Emissions Allowances


The history of emissions-trading markets in the United States is marked by change. Since cap-and-trade programs were first implemented on a large scale after the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has repeatedly revised and replaced emissionstrading markets for nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxide. In each transition, the agency has had to decide what to do with emissions allowances banked in the earlier program. These banked allowances represent early reductions in emissions, with corresponding environmental benefits, but also the expectation on the part of regulated entities that they will continue to hold value in the future. Unsettling these expectationscan lead to price volatility, instability in markets, and erosion of buy-in from regulated entities and the credibility of regulators. The paper discusses EPA’s mixed record regarding these transitions and implications for the future of cap and trade as a policy tool.