Chapter 9

It’s Already Being Done

The successful nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has shown states can cut carbon pollution while growing the economy.


“The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has demonstrated that by working together, groups of states can achieve greater emission reductions at a lower cost, all while creating jobs, maintaining grid reliability, and improving the regional economy.”

Comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the Clean Power Plan, from the nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that make up the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative


Never mind the doomsday predictions from critics of the U.S. Environmental Agency’s plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants.

Since 2009, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced reggie), made up of nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, has been demonstrating that it, as a group, can cut carbon pollution and produce health and economic benefits without any risk to the grid.

Out West, California also is showing the way.

RGGI has reduced carbon pollution by 40 percent below 2005 levels. By 2020, CO2 emissions from power plants in the nine states is projected to be half of 2005 levels.

Experts say RGGI states and California — long an environmental protection pioneer — could be models for other states in meeting the EPA’s flexible state-based program to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.

Under the Clean Power Plan, states can form multistate or regional programs as a way to meet carbon-reduction targets, which could be less costly and more flexible than going it alone.

“By our estimate, 41 of the 50 states are looking at multistate collaboration while they also consider implementing as single states,’’ said Franz Litz, a program consultant for the Great Plains Institute. Some states are looking at joining RGGI.

“The RGGI experience has taught these states that cutting carbon, especially through a market-based regional program, brings with it tons of additional advantages: job creation, lower energy bills, significantly improved public health,’’ said Jackson Morris, director of NRDC’s Eastern Energy, who has written about the RGGI experience.

“Over the past five years, we’ve shifted from one of the dirtiest energy mixes in the nation to one of the cleanest,” said Governor Jack Markell of Delaware, an RGGI member, at an EPA hearing last year in support of the Clean Power Plan. “We have decreased emissions by a greater percentage than any other state while creating jobs at the same time. And we have done so with the same approach that the president proposes for the country.”

“Over the past five years, we’ve shifted from one of the dirtiest energy mixes in the nation to one of the cleanest.”

The EPA cited the RGGI experience to illustrate how the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants — the biggest source of U.S. carbon pollution — can improve the air and economy without threatening the reliability of the electricity supply.

RGGI told the EPA that its experience shows “emission reductions are possible over a relatively short time period while supporting economic goals and maintaining grid reliability.’’

“The rate of pollution reductions in RGGI states continues to outpace expectations,’’ said a report by Acadia Center, a nonprofit group that promotes clean energy.

According to another Acadia Center report, “Emissions in RGGI states have declined faster than in other states, even as economic growth in the region has outpaced growth in non-RGGI states. In fact, emissions in the region dropped 2.7 times faster than the rest of the country since RGGI was established, even as those states’ economies have grown 2.5 times faster than other states.’’

RGGI operates the nation’s first interstate carbon cap–and–trade program. The coalition includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. During his campaign, newly elected Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf pledged to join RGGI. New Jersey dropped out of the program in 2011.

In full operation since 2009, RGGI sets a regional cap on CO2 pollution from power plants by issuing a limited number of tradable CO2 allowances. Each state devises its own approach to cutting carbon, but the scale of the regional endeavor helps drive efficiencies that individual states can’t realize on their own. The benefits have been confirmed by an Analysis Group study, a respected energy consulting firm.

A large chunk of the money raised from auctions of CO2 emissions allowances has gone to energy-efficiency and other programs that have helped reduce electricity bills. RGGI estimates that its investments will return more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy-bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households and 17,800 businesses.

RGGI states have been so successful in reducing carbon pollution that they urged the EPA to pursue more ambitious pollution cuts. “In less than a decade, RGGI states have already achieved a larger regional emission reduction than the EPA projects the Clean Power Plan will produce by 2030 across the nation,’’ the states wrote to the EPA.

In less than a decade, RGGI states have already achieved a larger regional emission reduction than the EPA projects the Clean Power Plan will produce by 2030 across the nation.

California also has been taking aggressive action to reduce carbon pollution for over a decade, more than the EPA’s Clean Power Plan would require. The state and the Canadian province of Quebec linked their cap-and-trade program on January 1, 2014, to form North America’s biggest carbon market, and Ontario announced on April 13, 2015, that it was joining the cap-and-trade program. California, Oregon, Washington State, and British Columbia have formed the West Coast Climate Change Initiative, committing to cutting carbon pollution along the western edge of the continent.

California has further established greenhouse gas emission standards for cars, a low-carbon fuel standard, and a mandate for one-third of its electricity to come from renewables by 2020.

Dillon Wind Power Project in Palm Springs, Riverside County, California (Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr)

The state is on track to meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In April 2015, Governor Jerry Brown moved to step up efforts, setting a goal of reducing carbon pollution to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. He has also called for the state to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

“California’s own experience demonstrates that states can prosper while they are reducing emissions and building a cleaner power sector, driving research and development, creating jobs, and protecting public health,’’ Mary Nichols, chairman of California Air Resources Board, told the EPA.

Along the way, California has become a magnet for clean-technology investment, Nichols said at a state legislative hearing. In 2012, the state benefited from more than $2 billion in clean-technology venture capital investment, more than the other 49 states combined.

Indeed, a group of state environmental leaders, energy-agency leaders, and public-utility commissioners from 14 states have recently expressed support for the Clean Power Plan: “Our states and others have already demonstrated that it is quite feasible to cost effectively reduce carbon pollution from the power sector and transition to a cleaner, more efficient electric-power system that improves public health and strengthens our economies.”