Northeast & Mid-Atlantic governors could double the benefits of reducing power plant pollution

Environment America Research & Policy Center

As the Trump administration prepares to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the single largest step the U.S. has taken to limit climate change, Environment America Research & Policy Center released a new report showing that governors of nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states can act on their own to accelerate progress in cutting pollution. The report, Doubling Down on Climate Progress, concludes that making the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative twice as strong would cut dangerous global warming pollution from power plants in half by 2030 and generate $18.7 billion to invest in clean energy – enough to weatherize more than 7 million homes, or almost every household in New York State.
“Right now, governors of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states are our best hope for action to protect the climate,” said Travis Madsen, State Climate Campaign Director for Environment America. “After yesterday’s reckless executive order attacking the Clean Power Plan, it’s even more clear that we can’t count on the federal government. So the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states must step forward to lead the nation and even the world towards a clean energy future. We can all benefit from less pollution and more clean energy, so governors should act quickly.”
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is the best regional clean air and climate protection program in the country. This program limits dangerous pollution from power plants across nine states from Maryland to Maine – helping to slow the warming of our planet. It also fuels investment in clean energy by making polluters pay to pollute.

The report, co-authored by Frontier Group, illustrates the opportunity before the governors. It finds that doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (compared to simply keeping the program on its current trajectory) would:

  • Avoid up to an additional 100 million tons of pollution over a decade, the equivalent of making more than 1 million homes run entirely on solar power.

  • Help the region invest $4 billion more in clean energy – enough to weatherize more than 7 million homes – or every household in New York State.*

“Trump’s actions this week to roll back health and environmental protections call for a bold response from states,” said Nathan Hultman, Director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland. “A strengthened RGGI will ensure continued progress in our states’ economies, improvements in the health of our citizens, and steady movement toward the energy jobs of the future. This report lays out an ambitious and achievable roadmap to achieve these goals through a doubling the strength of RGGI.”
The report also reviewed the impressive benefits the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has achieved for the region since it was created in 2005. Key findings include:

  • It has helped to cut global warming pollution from power plants in half. That is the equivalent of retiring 22 coal-fired power plants. On average, power plant pollution in the region has been falling by almost 5 percent per year. In 2016, pollution went down by 4.8 percent.
  • It has helped to clean our air, saving 600 lives over its first six years in operation.
  • It has helped make the region much more energy efficient. Electricity use is down by 5 percent since 2005, even as the regional economy grew by 10 percent.
  • It has given a boost to renewable energy deployment. Across the region, both wind and solar power generation have more than doubled in the last 10 years.

“RGGI helps fund programs such as Mass Save, which enabled us to make several major carbon reduction investments,” said Tedd Saunders, CEO of Saunders Hotel Group. “One of these was a co-gen power system at our Comfort Inn & Suites Boston/Airport, which significantly reduced our carbon emissions. That kind of ripple effect is happening around the region because of RGGI and needs to be continued and expanded.”

In February, more than 500 organizations, businesses, health professionals, lawmakers and community leaders from the Northeast called on regional governors to double the strength of the program and close several loopholes.
“The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a model for how states can work together, regardless of whether policymakers in Washington backslide on our obligation to future generations,” said Rebecca Millet, Maine State Senator. “This Earth is the only one we’ve got, and we have to protect it however we can, to the fullest extent of our ability.”
“To tackle the climate crisis, we need to quickly shift away from dirty fuels like coal and gas, and move to 100 percent clean, renewable energy,” said Madsen. “The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative can help us get there faster.”
“As good as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is, we can make it better,” said Boston University School of Public Health Professor Jonathan Levy. “We need Governor Baker and governors across the region to accelerate our progress in the fight against global warming, and magnify the important benefits that come from reducing pollution.”

* This report was updated in May 2017 to strengthen its conclusions, as described in footnote 62 on page 24.