States Unite in Lowering Pollution and Increasing Renewables

Obama’s Clean Power Plan may no longer be in operation, but that doesn’t mean to say we have to give up trying to make the world a cleaner and safer place to live. Many states have taken it upon themselves to take action in developing their own initiatives for lowering carbon emissions and limiting the damage climate change is doing to the environment.

One such example was seen on May 16 when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed Executive Directive 11 in which mandates the development of a regulatory framework for reducing the emissions created by power plants. It’s a very bold move, but of no real surprise really. Earlier this year, Trump decided to scrap Obama’s Clean Power Plan in order to put forth his own ideas, which include a revival of the coal industry. But what implications will this have considering the plan is still partly underway?  As commented by Jordan Stutt, a policy analyst at the clean-energy research nonprofit Acadia Center, it “is the first domino in what will be a series of states moving to adopt clean energy policies.”

Along with McAuliffe’s directive, the instructions that were issued ensured that Virginia would limit energy-sector emissions to a limit that’s low enough to fall in line with others across the country, particularly California and a coalition of nine East Coast states under what is known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Both have successfully implemented cap-and-trade policies in order to reduce CO2 emissions and while they may have been slow o begin with, they are now beginning to make a real difference.  After the introduction of Obama’s Clean Power Plan two years ago, “the whole country began preparing to comply with the standards, and most states were looking at how an RGGI model-a-cap-and-trade model – might work in their state,” said Stutt.

RGGI is comprised of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It also had New Jersey up until 2011 when Governor Chris Christie decided to pull his state from the coalition). It’s been in place since 2008 and since then emission from the region’s power plants have reduced by as much as 40%, and most of this has been down to RGGI.  Health has improved across the board, with fewer asthma cases being presented along with lower cardiac rates, leading to savings in emergency rooms across the country.

By ensuring a limit is placed on emissions and forcing power plants to invest in the continuation of carbon-emitting operations, RGGI creates an incentive for companies to switch to renewable energy. So, those companies that don’t need as much carbon allowance can save money in the auction if they sell their excess shares for an increased price.  Meanwhile, those that exceed the allowance can buy extra in auctions but will pay a penalty which will go towards generating extra revenue for the program.

Although it’s only the energy sector the RGGI regulates, nearly every other sector has followed in its lead in introducing a cap-and-trade program. Stutt commented, “States are looking to these programs; they don’t want to be missing out on all the benefits the RGGI states and California have been seeing for revenue to be reinvested in clean energy initiatives and infrastructure needs.” In 2016, Illinois drafted a new energy bill that would see the state doubling its energy efficiency levels by introducing 4,300 megawatts of new wind and solar power. These are expected to have a dramatic effect on the state and reduce carbon emissions by as much as 56% by 2030.

Washington state also introduced their own measures to reduce emissions last December which included the first ever state-level carbon tax which requires to $25 per metric ton.  Oregon too is hot on the case and in late November was looking at ways to attach the state’s carbon-reducing policies to the cap-and-trade program already running in California.

“One of the most exciting parts of these state-level developments is the opportunity to think about how what you’re building in your own state can become part of a broader regional or national strategy, and acknowledging that there are increased efficiencies and flexibility that comes from a larger market,” said Pam Kiely, senior director of regulatory strategy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “The Clean Power Plan was and remains critically important to ensure that there is certainty about the pace and scope of emissions reductions that are going to be achieved across the country. It’s critical to provide that level of confidence around the ambition for those reductions, and what this sector in the U.S. is going to be able to accomplish,” she continued.

In general, it seems that those states pushing for cap-and-trade systems and other carbon reducing policies seem to be bluer than red states currently and both Kiely and Stutt emphasize the need for support on both sides. What needs to happen now is “for existing programs to figure out how to accommodate new participants, and for new programs and players to think ahead about what types of design features are going to be necessary in order to take advantage of a broader market down the line,” says Kiely.

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