The fledgling U.S. carbon credit market, currently a $100 million-plus business, is poised to skyrocket if The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which recently was passed by the House, makes it through the Senate. The bill would limit, or "cap," the amount of carbon emissions that companies can produce each year.
Under the bill, sponsored by Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA), firms that produce more greenhouse gases than they're allowed would be able to buy credits from companies that have produced fewer emissions than they're allotted, creating a large market for carbon credits. President Obama has estimated that more than a half-trillion dollars' worth of carbon credits will be auctioned in the first seven years after the bill is enacted.
The United States was the first country to introduce a cap-and-trade scheme. The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments established an emissions trading system to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) from fossil fuel-burning power plants. According to Randy Warsager, director of green products at CME Group, the SO2 market was challenged last year by an unfavorable court decision, but it has been rebuilding slowly.
A voluntary market currently exists for carbon credit trading, primarily through regional initiatives such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which covers Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland and Rhode Island. In the RGGI's latest auction in June, 30.8 million allowances were sold for $3.23 each, which raised more than $104 million for the 10 Northeastern states to invest in energy-efficiency and renewable energy programs. (Each allowance represents a ton of carbon that electric plants can release.)
Profiting From the Environment
Citi is among the investment banks that have been moving forward in the environmental products space. Garth Edward, the firm's director of environmental markets, began trading environmental products with the introduction of the EPA's NOx Budget Trading Program, a cap-and-trade program that the EPA created in 2003 to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from power plants and other large combustion sources. For the past few years Citi has focused primarily on CO2 trading, which has been driven by the European Union's emissions trading system. "This is where the bulk of liquidity is, most of the capital flow that drives emission reduction projects around the world," Edward notes.
Growth in market activity and the capital deployed in environmental products has been strong, primarily because of cap-and-trade legislation, according to Edward. "Where you have a step forward in legislation such as the EU emissions trading system, the voluntary agreements in Japan and the Waxman-Markey legislation, that's the kind of process that starts creating compliance requirements on end users and incentivizes service and technology providers to provide solutions," he says.
Despite the projected growth in environmental markets, Credit Suisse recently cut back its New York-based carbon trading team; Carbon Finance, a newsletter dedicated to the global markets in greenhouse gas emissions, reported that half the team will depart early next year as part of a de-emphasizing of the business. According to the Carbon Finance report, going forward Credit Suisse will focus on environmental trading on behalf of its clients, which are mostly European. (Credit Suisse did not respond to Carbon Finance's nor to Wall Street & Technology's requests for an interview.)
Meanwhile the primary U.S. exchanges involved in carbon trading are the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). The CCX trades allowance and offset contracts that each represent 100 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. The Chicago Climate Futures Exchange, a subsidiary of the CCX, trades RGGI futures and options contracts. The CCFE reported record trading volume for June 2009 -- it traded 133,175 contracts versus its previous record of 132,319 in April.
The CME -- along with partners Evolution Markets, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Tudor Investment, Constellation Energy, Vitol, RNK Capital, ICAP and TFS Energy -- has applied for CFTC approval for a Green Exchange, on which it will trade all the environmental products it already trades on its commodities exchange. (For more on the CME's carbon credit trading efforts, see "CME Revs Up for Surge in Carbon Credit Trading".)
Europe's BlueNext, an environmental exchange that's 60 percent owned by NYSE Euronext, plans to open an office in New York "very shortly," according to Keiron Allen, the exchange's marketing and communications director. It plans to start trading contracts within the RGGI market by the end of the year, Allen reports, adding that the exchange intends to compete with the U.S. environmental exchanges. "It will be a race to see who gains critical mass first," he says.