Over the last decade, northeastern states have built a track record of successful action to reduce global warming pollution. By working together across state lines and partisan divides—and developing innovative new policies to hasten the transition to a clean energy economy—the Northeast has succeeded in cutting emissions while safeguarding the region’s economic health.
Between 2000 and 2009, the 10 northeastern states1 that participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) cut per capita carbon dioxide emissions 20 percent faster than the rest of the nation—even as the region’s gross product per capita grew 87 percent faster than the rest of the United States.
The region is on pace to achieve the ambitious emission reduction goals set over the last decade. Much more remains to be done to protect the region from the impacts of global warming, but the experience of the past decade provides hope that smart policies and an ethic of cooperation can result in a rapid reduction in global warming pollution even as the region’s economy continues to grow.
Northeastern states have been pioneers in the effort to reduce fossil fuel pollution, leading the way in demonstrating effective policies to promote a clean energy economy and reduce emissions.
• Emission reduction goals: The New England Governors/Eastern Canadian Premiers Climate Change Action Plan, adopted in 2001, set the first regional emission reduction target in the United States and was the first international, multi-jurisdictional agreement reached anywhere in the world. Outside New England, New Jersey and Maryland adopted enforceable caps on global warming pollution within their states, joining Massachusetts and Connecticut in doing so.
• Cleaning up power plants: Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to set mandatory limits on global warming pollution from power plants, in 2001, eventually leading to creation of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation’s first global warming cap-and-trade program. RGGI’s innovative auction of carbon dioxide emission allowances was the largest in the world when it began in 2008 and has funded clean energy programs that will curb global warming pollution.
• Cleaning up cars: New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine were the first northeastern states to adopt the Clean Cars program, which sets vehicle tailpipe emission limits for carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Eight of the 10 northeastern states eventually adopted the program, pushing the federal government to follow suit in 2009. In 2011, the Obama administration adopted even stronger standards that will deliver additional savings at the gas pump and reductions in global warming pollution.
• Improving energy efficiency: Six of the top 10 states for energy efficiency are in the Northeast, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Northeastern states have set ambitious energy efficiency goals, created innovative energy efficiency “utilities,” helped drive the federal government to adopt new energy efficiency standards for appliances, and are among the leaders in implementation of strong building energy codes.
• Expanding renewable energy: Every northeastern state other than Vermont has adopted a renewable electricity standard designed to increase production of wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy. In 2000, the Northeast had only 25 megawatts (MW) of wind energy capacity; by 2010 it had 1,671 MW. The region also had 397 MW of solar energy capacity by the end of 2010, of which 70 percent was installed in either 2009 or 2010.
The region’s efforts have paid off in a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from energy use, even as the region’s per capita GDP has grown faster than the nation as a whole.
A 2011 study by the Analysis Group found that the RGGI program raised economic output by $1.6 billion in the participating states.
- The 10 northeastern states participating in RGGI emitted 161 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from electricity use in 2009—15 percent less than in 2000 and 9 percent less than in 1990.
- These emission reductions put the northeastern states on track to meet their emission reduction goals. The six New England states, for example, committed to reducing their global warming emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, in concert with eastern Canadian provinces. By 2009, New England’s carbon dioxide emissions were 7 percent below 1990 levels.
- On a per capita basis, the 10 northeastern states cut emissions 20 percent faster than the rest of the nation between 2000 and 2009, even as the region’s gross product per capita grew 87 percent faster than the rest of the United States.
The experience of the last decade shows that large reductions in global warming pollution are possible, that innovative regional collaborations can help make them happen, and that emission reductions can be achieved side-by side with economic growth.
However, with global warming and fossil fuel dependence continuing to threaten the Northeast—and with even greater emission reductions needed in the years ahead—the region cannot afford to rest on its laurels. The northeastern states should build on the successes of the last decade by:
• Strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a signature element of the region’s strategy to reduce global warming pollution. Northeastern states should strengthen RGGI’s emission cap to drive further emission reductions from power plants, and consider expanding the program to new jurisdictions and new sources of emissions.
• Continuing to develop innovative regional policies, especially a Clean Fuels Standard that can hasten the region’s transition away from oil as a transportation fuel while ensuring that new fuels are less damaging to the climate.
• Learning from success, by ensuring that successful approaches are adopted by every state in the region and nationally.
• Continuing to set aggressive goals and planning to reach them. States with enforceable caps on global warming pollution should follow through on those commitments, while other states should redouble their efforts to identify and tap all available sources of emission reductions, and engage and inform the public about their efforts.