While the Trump administration moves to block the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce carbon emissions from electric generators, two more states are joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program that cuts emissions in nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
RGGI is a cap-and-trade program that has reduced greenhouse gas emissions some 40 percent and produced nearly $3 billion for clean energy improvements since it began in 2009.
“States that are interested in climate action and tackling carbon pollution from power plants are recognizing that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a winning model to address those emissions while driving job creation in the clean energy economy,” says Jackson Morris, Eastern Energy Project Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “For folks in New Jersey, it’s going to mean cleaner air and greater investment in clean energy jobs when it comes to solar, wind and energy efficiency.”
Virginia is also taking steps to join RGGI, making it the first example of a coal-heavy state showing leadership on climate action, Morris says. The process began under former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who, during his time in office, pushed for a carbon cap on power plants in Virginia and explicitly said he wanted the state to explore linking with other market-based programs in the power sector. His successor, Gov. Ralph Northam, is now following through on that process, Morris says, and “we hope to see that wrapped up over the course of this coming year — and that's incredibly exciting.”
The larger the market for carbon, the lower the cost of meeting the carbon cuts, Morris explains, so he believes more states “will look at the RGGI model as something they may want to explore linking to, to cut carbon and grow their clean energy economies, as well.”
The idea for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative emerged in 2003-2004 in New York State, under Republican Gov. George Pataki, Morris says. Pataki wanted to try to tackle climate change from a regional perspective. After several years of talks with neighboring states in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, these states agreed that the best way to address carbon pollution from power plants in the region would be to pursue a market-based system that caps emissions from power plants in those states.
“That was very much a bipartisan project,” Morris notes. “We had Republican governors; we had Democratic governors. That bipartisanship continues today. Right now, of the current nine states, you’ve got five Republican governors and four Democratic governors supporting not only the program in its current form but [also] a big agreement to strengthen the program and extend it out to 2030."
In 2009, the RGGI states placed a cap on emissions from the region designed to decline 2.5 percent each year until 2020. The program has been updated periodically, Morris says, but the “big picture number” to look at is this: by 2030, as a result of the new agreement, these states will have slashed carbon pollution from power plants in the region by 65 percent.
The program has already made good progress toward this goal, Morris says. It has so far delivered a 40 percent reduction in emissions and added at least $2.9 billion to the combined economies of the RGGI states. It has also added 30,000 job-years to the region’s economy and raised $2.7 billion in revenue, which the states have then reinvested in clean energy.
While RGGI’s goal is to cut carbon pollution, it also means that power plants must become cleaner and more efficient. So, in addition to the carbon cuts, which are important from a climate perspective, the program reduces other types of pollution, which, Morris notes, leads to other positive outcomes. One independent analysis shows the program has led to “$5.7 billion in public health and other benefits” since 2009.
“Those are very real and very definite benefits, but it's pretty striking to see that the program is already a net benefit to the region before you even calculate those public health benefits,” Morris says.