The Northeast’s Emissions Reductions Program Is A Big Hit With Voters

A wind turbine is seen at the First Wind project in Sheffield, Vermont. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/TOBY TALBOT
A wind turbine is seen at the First Wind project in Sheffield, Vermont. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/TOBY TALBOT

A vast majority of voters in nine Northeastern states support their effective emissions reductions program, according to new poll results.

Voters in Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) states approve of the program by a 5.5 to 1 margin, according to the poll, which was conducted by a bipartisan team and commissioned by the Sierra Club.

“What we’re seeing with this polling is that it is overwhelmingly popular with voters of all stripes,” Mark Kresowik, eastern region deputy director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign,” said on a call with reporters Thursday.

Under RGGI, a cap-and-trade program, electricity providers in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont are allowed to buy a limited number of carbon emissions credits at quarterly auctions. The revenue from the auctions is redistributed to the states, which use it to support clean energy and efficiency programs.

It has been massively successful. Analysis suggests it has saved customers $460 million in electricity costs since 2011, and it has decreased the region’s emissions by 15 percent. It has also coincided with an economic boost over the rest of the country, a recent report found.

Thursday’s results were released to coincide with RGGI’s review period, going on now. Under the current design, set to expire in 2020, there are 2.5 percent less carbon credits available each year. The Sierra Club and other groups are calling for regulators to extend the program at least through 2030 and to ramp up the rate of emissions decline to 5 percent annually.

“Not only are significant improvements in a stronger Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative popular with voters, it’s good for the economy and voters recognize that,” Kresowik said.

The polling looked at all states in RGGI as well as deep dives on Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. Across all states, three out of every four voters support the program, with nearly half “strongly” supportive. CREDIT: SIERRA CLUB
The polling looked at all states in RGGI as well as deep dives on Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. Across all states, three out of every four voters support the program, with nearly half “strongly” supportive. CREDIT: SIERRA CLUB

In fact, even after being read an argument against RGGI, voters still support increasing the decline to 5 percent each year, the polling found.

“I went back and looked at the counter-argument to make sure it was strong enough and wasn’t just a fluff ball,” Maryland State Senator Paul Pinsky said. “It portrays the major arguments we hear time after time from the opponents, and so with a 4 to 1 support even after that description, I was pretty impressed.”

In Pinsky’s home state, 79 percent of voters approved of the program and 81 percent would like to see it increased. In addition, 63 percent of voters approved of the job Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) is doing. These results, Pinsky said, are representative of the state and demonstrate the strength of the polling.

Hogan did not sign a recent bill to extend a renewable portfolio standard in Maryland, but he did sign a greenhouse gas reduction bill last year.

In fact, Hogan is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Governors in RGGI states include climate action champions such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and staunch deniers of climate science such as Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME), but all governors would do well to extend the program, pollsters said.

Voters were asked if they approved or disapproved of their governors overall, and across all categories — approve, disapprove, not sure — voters overwhelmingly wanted to extend the cap.

“If we do look at this much more specifically and politically, there does not seem to be any downside whatsoever for governors,” Jay Campbell, a pollster with Hart Research Associates, said on the call. “It’s pretty much of a slam dunk in every case.”

Update: This story originally included Pennsylvania in the list of RGGI states. Pennsylvania is not part of RGGI; Delaware is. It also incorrectly referred to the governor of New York. ThinkProgress regrets the errors.