Northeastern Governors’ leadership needed to combat climate change

Environment America Research & Policy Center

In the aftermath of President Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the Paris Climate Agreement, state leadership is needed to combat climate change.

Today, officials from nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states met to discuss options to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants and accelerate their transition to clean energy, by strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This program, the best regional clean air and climate protection program in the country, sets a limit on dangerous pollution and requires polluters to pay for carbon pollution. This generates funding for important local clean energy programs.   

The new ideas introduced today – such as strengthening the limit on pollution two years early – are welcome news. However, in order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, the region’s governors will need to be even more ambitious.

Madeline Page, outreach director with Environment America Research & Policy Center, made the following statement urging the states to cut dangerous pollution more deeply:

“In order to have healthy communities and a livable climate, we must cut dangerous global warming pollution and shift to 100 percent clean energy. Today’s proposals are a good start, but when it comes to combatting climate change, Americans deserve nothing less than the strongest program to clean their air and prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

“As the governors are deliberating, mayors are stepping up. In the last week, 18 additional mayors of cities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic joined the more than 500 community leaders calling for a stronger Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

“Across the country, more than 30 cities have already adopted official policies to achieve 100 percent renewable energy, including Northeastern cities such as Cambridge, MA; Southampton NY; and Hanover, NH; and large cities like Philadelphia, PA; Atlanta, GA; and San Diego, CA. And yesterday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors voted unanimously in support of a resolution calling on cities to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. That level of ambition would effectively reduce power plant carbon pollution to zero within two decades. 

“In comparison, the future pathways for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative discussed today are nowhere near as ambitious. The strongest proposal on the table would still allow power plants in the region to emit more than 50 million tons of dangerous carbon pollution per year by the end of the next decade. Experts hired by the states estimate that this policy would boost renewable electricity generation in the region to roughly 15 percent by 2030 (or 35 percent including biomass and hydropower).  More than a third of the region’s power would still come from burning gas – which emits dangerous carbon pollution and drives global warming.

“That pollution is the reason why last year was the hottest year on record — for the 15th time in the past 16 years. New England is warming faster than any other region in the United States except for Alaska, and we’re already feeling the effects of climate change, from severe drought taking its toll on the iconic dairy farms of New Hampshire, to stronger storms and hurricanes battering the Coney Island boardwalk.

“The faster we transition away from dangerous fuels, the better able we will be to protect our communities, improve our health and preserve our climate.

“Moreover, action will come with widespread benefits. Experience with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to date has proven it. Since 2005, the program has:

  • Helped to cut carbon dioxide pollution from power plants in half, the equivalent of retiring 22 dirty coal-fired power plants.

  • Helped to clean our air – saving 600 lives over six years, preventing 9,000 asthma attacks, and averting respiratory illnesses that otherwise would have caused 43,000 lost work days; and

  • Locked in more than $4.6 billion in savings on energy bills for citizens and businesses over time.

“We are urging governors to double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative by:

  • Charting an ambitious course to a clean energy future by tightening the limit on pollution by 5 percent per year;

  • Taking the business-as-usual scenario off the table (reducing pollution by only 2.5 percent per year is not enough);

  • Implementing the new trajectory beginning in 2019, rather than later; and

  • Closing loopholes in the program, including making a full adjustment for banked allowances, setting a higher price floor, reforming the cost-containment reserve, and establishing an emissions containment reserve to lock in any progress we make above and beyond minimum targets.

“We need the region’s governors to do more to cut pollution. Call your governor’s office today and ask for more clean energy and less pollution. Ask them to act on climate by doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

“We have the tools to secure our health, our climate, and our future. Our governors should use them.”