Two new reports again highlight economic, pollution-saving benefits of RGGI

Two new reports out this month—one from Environment New Jersey and the other from Environmental Advocates of New York—highlight the success of a program designed to cut pollution from power plants—reducing climate change emissions and saving energy, especially for residential customers. Both point to the fact that what we need from the program – called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI – is more of a good thing: tighter limits on pollution that, in turn, drive investment in energy efficiency, creating more jobs and saving consumers more money on their energy bills.

RGGI is the compact among 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that cuts the air pollution linked to global warming, creates good jobs that can’t be shipped overseas, spurs energy innovation, and, importantly, lowers energy bills for consumers in all categories—residential, commercial and industrial.

This is an important year for RGGI because the participating states will review the program’s progress. They’ll decide how best to fine-tune RGGI so that it delivers even more of the benefits it offers now. 

Environment New Jersey’s report, released a couple of weeks ago, shows RGGI has been a key factor in the region’s ability to simultaneously cut carbon pollution while rebuilding our economy. In fact, in large part as a result of RGGI, the region cut power-plant pollution by a significant 161 million metric tons in 2009—15 percent below 2000 levels and 9 percent lower than 1990 levels.

Meanwhile, the region’s economy has grown 87 percent faster than the rest of the country. That disproves assertions made by fossil-fuel interests that the program would serve as a drag on the economy. In fact, RGGI contributed to our region’s growth, injecting $1.6 billion into the economy, saving consumers $1.3 billion on energy bills, and creating more than 16,000 jobs.

The report from Environmental Advocates of New York shows similar gains in the Empire State, where more than $32 million in RGGI funding has helped residential energy customers reduce their utility bills through energy-efficiency upgrades. Many of them are low-income New Yorkers, like Caroline and Arthur Holmwood of Greenfield Center. They cut their energy bills by half—that’s right, by half!—thanks to a high-efficiency boiler and better insulation installed with the help of the RGGI-funded EmPower New York program. In the Westchester/Hudson Valley region, in 2011, 550 households began saving an average of more than $800 a year on energy, as a result of RGGI-supported efficiency upgrades. 

All told, over the next 10 years, RGGI support for energy efficiency will help New York homeowners save $46 million. Not a bad return on our investment.

As the good news about RGGI continues to build, let’s be sure these findings about RGGI’s ability to create jobs, save consumers serious money and cut pollution are incorporated into the review process. Fine-tuning the program in ways that further reduce pollution will bring benefits to us all.