By ROBERT UKEILEY April 12, 2013
We’ve closely followed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced “Reggie”), the first greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program to go into effect in North America. RGGI sets caps on the amount of carbon dioxide pollution that can be emitted by power plants in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. However, if a plant emits less than its allocated credits, it can trade the unused credits to other power plants. RGGI is important even outside these nine states because, thanks to a shift in public perception of climate change, a cap- and-trade bill from Congress is back within the realm of the possible. More people now believe in climate change and understand that it is caused by human activities. Furthermore, after the November election and subsequent infighting within the Republican Party, op- position to cap and trade looks weaker.
In February, RGGI proposed to lower the total pollution cap for 2014 by 45 percent (from 165 million tons to 91 million tons). The cap would then further decrease by 2.5 percent per year from 2015 to 2020.
There are two important take-aways from this dramatic reduction in the pollution cap: One is that, be- cause RGGI works, a national cap-and-trade program for carbon pollution could also work. RGGI has not extinguished the lights in the nine member states, no one has had to move into caves and their economies have not been crushed.
The other is that the renewable energy/energy-efficiency community needs to advocate boldly for its goals. These include pollution caps, renewable energy standards and other policy mechanisms to speed the transition to a renewable energy economy. Our advocacy community should not push for goals that are less ambitious than those set forth by the spokespeople for the status quo — a lobbying coalition that wants to eliminate our programs entirely. We are making great strides. We have evidence that our programs work, and we should view this as an opportunity to demand an even quicker transition to a pollution-free, sustainable energy system.
Robert Ukeiley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a lawyer who represents environmental nonprofits in Clean Air Act litigation affecting energy issues.