Public Supports Strengthening RGGI to Fight Climate Change

In the RGGI states (pictured here), residents want to go for the gold on climate protection, with 72 percent supporting 5 percent annual cuts in power plant pollution.
Credit: (map courtesy of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions)

This post was co-authored by my colleague Bruce Ho.

For those of us concerned about climate, public health, good and local jobs, and serious energy-bill savings, there are two pieces of excellent news out today that have bearing on the future of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Separate reports show that the residents of the nine-state RGGI region want bigger pollution cuts and that there are smart ways to achieve them.


RGGI, of course, is the pioneering cap-and-invest program to cut carbon pollution from power plants in nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. With the 10th anniversary of the first RGGI model rule approaching on Monday, the states are undertaking a scheduled review of the RGGI program to determine how best to continue RGGI’s progress in fighting climate change beyond the states’ current commitments to cut carbon pollution through 2020.

The program, as I wrote earlier this week, is an unmitigated success. Since it first took effect in 2009, it’s cut carbon pollution from power plants by a whopping 37 percent, created at least 30,000 good, local jobs, saved consumers hundreds of millions of dollars on energy, and improved the public health—with health savings from improved air quality valued at a massive $10 billion.


The RGGI states are considering various options for continued carbon cutting post-2020, including cutting emissions by 5 percent per year, which would match the program’s current level of ambition, along with other, less ambitious proposals. The first piece of good news here is that residents in the region want to go for the gold on carbon cutting, and strongly support that most ambitious, 5 percent trajectory, by a full 72 percent, according to a poll released today and commissioned by our friends at the Sierra Club. Such cuts are not only eminently feasible, they could also deliver a host of benefits to the region, including more than 58,000 new jobs a year and consumer energy savings of $25.7 billion, according to a recent study by Synapse Energy Economics. Annual 5 percent cuts would also more than comply with the states’ obligations under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants. And this 5 percent per year cap decline can help the RGGI states meet their goals to cut economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 at the lowest cost.


Sounds like a win all around.


But back to the poll. Not only do 72 percent of RGGI state residents support annual reductions of 5 percent, but about 80 percent believe such a trajectory will improve air quality and public health, while close to 75 percent believe such reductions will improve our environment (including slowing dangerous climate change) and spur the development of renewable energy. (In fact, studies of RGGI’s performance bear those opinions out.)


The next bit of good news is that—as outlined by our friends at the Acadia Center—there is much the RGGI states can do to strengthen the program so it continues to deliver benefits to our climate. RGGI works by requiring power producers in the region to buy carbon allowances at quarterly auctions or on the secondary market to cover each ton of carbon they emit, with the number of allowances declining each year. The states then use the auction revenue to support consumer programs, with the vast majority of the cash going toward energy efficiency; renewable energy; direct bill assistance; and other greenhouse gas abatement programs. As mentioned above, these investments have generated billions of dollars in regional benefits, and to keep these benefits flowing, the RGGI states must commit to further carbon pollution reductions after 2020, Acadia shows. As we’ve highlighted before, and Acadia further discusses, in addition to the cap trajectory, the RGGI states must also reform the cost containment reserve and how they treat unused, banked allowances in order to avoid undermining the climate integrity of the program.


The good news, again, is that all of these reforms to strengthen RGGI are eminently doable. Just as RGGI made corrections to the program in its 2012 review—corrections that improved its ability to cut carbon pollution—the states can do this in smart ways again, ways that are outlined further in that great Acadia Center report.


Ten years ago when RGGI started, it was a pioneer, showing states across the nation and countries around the world smart ways to use cap-and-invest to cut dangerous carbon pollution as RGGI ramped up economic and public health benefits. Now, as its 10th anniversary approaches, it has the opportunity to lead again. As today’s Sierra Club poll and Acadia Center report demonstrate, that’s what residents of the region want, and that’s what RGGI can deliver, by adopting innovative program designs that benefit our climate and our wallets as well.