Rhode Island Urged to Strengthen Cap on Climate-Altering Carbon Pollution

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Channing Jones

Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center

Providence— At a Department of Environmental Management hearing today, Environment Rhode Island urged state officials to strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program designed to limit climate-altering pollution from power plants. At a public hearing on proposed amendments to the program, supporters highlighted the success of the program to date and the need for continued action.

“We have an obligation to protect our children and future generations from the impacts of global warming,” said Channing Jones, Campaign Director for Environment Rhode Island. “The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a critical part of that effort. We commend Rhode Island for moving forward with proposed improvements to the program.”

Rhode Island is one of 10 states that created the original Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a pioneering agreement to cap carbon pollution from power plants. In February, Rhode Island and 8 other states announced a new agreement to make deeper cuts in power plant carbon emissions and reduce the carbon pollution limit 15 percent by 2020. States are now revising their rules in order to carry out the agreement.

In calling for a strengthened limit on carbon emissions, Jones cited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent 5th assessment report, which definitively concluded that global warming is happening now, that it is caused by human activity and that impacts will continue to accelerate without coordinated action to rapidly reduce emissions of greenhouse gas pollution. Impacts of climate change in Rhode Island already include a doubling of the frequency of extreme rainstorms, and a 5 inch rise in sea level since the middle of the last century – which has doubled the risk of Superstorm Sandy-scale coastal flooding.

RGGI has proven effective as a tool to directly reduce power plant emissions of climate-altering pollution. Across the region, emissions are down by about a third since 2005. Strengthening the program as proposed would additionally prevent as much pollution as would be emitted by 16 million cars through 2020.

RGGI has also succeeded by providing revenue to accelerate the development of clean energy resources including wind, solar and energy efficiency. Clean energy investments driven by RGGI through 2011 are expected to reduce global warming pollution by 12 million tons over their lifetimes, the equivalent of taking 2 million cars off the road for a year. Strengthening the emissions cap as proposed would more than double the amount of resources available to states through RGGI to invest in clean energy measures.

“RGGI is helping states from Maine to Maryland reduce carbon pollution and make investments in clean energy,” said Peter Shattuck, Director of Market Initiatives for ENE (Environment Northeast). “Strengthening the program as proposed will help speed our transition away from fossil fuels.”

At the same time, RGGI has been a boon to the economies of participating states. In its first two and a half years of operation, RGGI boosted net economic output by $1.6 billion and created 16,000 jobs, including $69 million in economic benefits and 560 jobs in Rhode Island. Strengthening the program as proposed would create more than $8 billion in additional economic benefits through the decade, including energy bill savings, and add more than 120,000 job-years of employment across the region.

“Two out of every three dollars raised in RGGI compliance auctions through 2011 were invested in programs to improve the energy efficiency of the Northeast’s economy,” said Josh Craft of Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships. “Those investments—totaling more than $400 million—will leverage $1.1 billion in consumer energy savings over their lifetimes. Everyone in Rhode Island and across the region benefits.”

At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the first national standards limiting carbon pollution from new power plants, with rules for existing power plants expected by next June. Rhode Island’s RGGI program provides a strong example for how states can successfully control carbon pollution – just as they have successfully reduced emissions of arsenic, lead, soot and other types of power plant pollution.

“We commend Governor Chafee, Director Coit of the Department of Environmental Management and Commissioner Gold of the Office of Energy Resources for moving forward with improvements to RGGI,” said Jones. “Rhode Island leaders at all levels should support similar action in other states and at the federal level to help ensure that we do what it takes to reduce the impact of global warming.”