These 9 states just pledged to reduce emissions by 30 percent

The agreement builds on the Northeast's current reductions.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Toby Talbot
CREDIT: AP Photo/Toby Talbot

The Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has already been an incredible success, bringing down emissions and improving economies in participating states. Now, it’s set to become even stronger.

On Wednesday, the nine states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — agreed to further lower emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2020 levels. Environmentalists, who are increasingly turning to states as leaders in the climate change sector, given the federal government’s current stance, applauded the move.

“When people talk about the need for states to rise and lead on climate action, given all the roll backs and hurdles coming out of D.C., this is what they’re talking about,” Conor Bambrick, air & energy director at Environmental Advocates of New York, said in a statement.

“In the face of the Trump administration’s ongoing attempts to undermine solutions to climate change, nine governors – Republicans and Democrats alike – doubled-down on a clean energy future for their citizens,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, stated separately. “RGGI’s bold plan will significantly cut power plant pollution while creating new benefits to the economy and people’s health.”

The RGGI program, pronounced “reggie,” was set to expire in 2020. Wednesday’s announcement marked the initial consensus among the states’ representatives. The new model will now go back for additional public comment before being finalized.

RGGI works by setting a cap on the available permits for pollution. Electricity-generating companies buy the permits, and the states use the money to fund efficiency programs and other energy-saving or clean energy initiatives.

And it works: Between 2011 and 2015, RGGI saved customers $460 million in electricity costs, while decreasing the region’s emissions by 15 percent and seeing overall growth in the region’s economy.  That’s important, because, historically, emissions have been tied to economic activity. That connection has faltered in recent years, as renewable energy sources and efficiency have improved, allowing more work for less fossil fuel-fired electricity.

“Through RGGI’s implementation and through complementary state policies, the RGGI states have shown that economic benefits, consumer savings, public health improvements, and greenhouse gas emissions reductions can go hand-in-hand,” the coalition said in a statement announcing the new benchmarks.

It noted that, along with efficiency and climate benefits, the program has other significant bona fides. “Other studies, such as a recent independent report by Abt Associates, have found that RGGI has generated public health benefits which have saved hundreds of lives, prevented thousands of asthma attacks, and saved $5.7 billion in health-related economic costs,” it said.

The economic and health benefits might be why governors like Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage, a climate-denying Republican, signed on again. And it doesn’t hurt that the program is popular; in a poll last year, voters in RGGI states favored the program by a 5.5 to 1 margin.

For other states, though, climate change is an existential threat, and RGGI is a way to take control.

“As the lowest-lying coastal state, Delaware is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and must act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Shawn M. Garvin, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said in a statement. “RGGI proves that state leadership and cooperation can result in meaningful greenhouse gas reductions that in turn, mitigate the effects of climate change on our economy, communities and natural resources.”