Northeast Governors Sign Landmark Global Warming Pollution Pact
Governors of seven Northeast states today unveiled a pioneering bipartisan accord that will cut heat-trapping global warming emissions from the region's power plants and create new investment in cleaner, more efficient energy technology. Along with new pollution limits, the plan will use a market-based strategy that rewards smart companies for outperforming the new pollution limits and lowers overall compliance costs.
"This bipartisan initiative is a vital turning point not only in these seven states, but for the country as a whole. It is a straight-forward, highly cost-effective approach that's good for consumers, good for the economy and good for the atmosphere," said Dale Bryk, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "It is definitely the shape of things to come."
Under careful development for more than two years, the accord includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and five Canadian provinces have been close observers in the process, and states including California, Oregon and New Mexico have all announced plans to pursue a similar approach.
The plan also has federal ramifications. Although the Bush administration has steadfastly rejected concrete cuts in emissions - and last week caused a stir when its hand-picked delegation walked out of an international climate treaty negotiating session - there is growing pressure within in both parties to adopt national legislation limiting heat-trapping pollution.
"The governors of these Northeastern states are sending a strong signal to other states and other nations that Americans are ready to implement innovative solutions to meet the challenge posed by global warming," said Dr. Peter C. Frumhoff, Senior Scientist and Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Environment Program. "In the face of the Bush administration's adamant refusal to cut heat-trapping pollution, this is a bold act of bipartisan leadership."
Getting Ahead of the Curve
Known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the accord takes effect in 2009, and will reduce carbon dioxide pollution to a level 10 percent below current emissions by 2019. The policy is expected to lower utility bills by helping consumers and businesses use energy more efficiently. It will also give industry in the Northeast a competitive edge as national global warming pollution limits take shape.
"By putting forward this plan that will stabilize and begin to reduce global warming pollution from power plants, the governors are setting a remarkable precedent. We look forward to working with state officials to ensure the final rules achieve the promise of reducing pollution from power plants while maximizing the economic and environmental benefits to the region we get from the smart and efficient use of our energy sources," said Rob Sargent, Senior Energy Policy Analyst for the National Association of State PIRGs.
Leading companies operating in the region including Bank of America, Staples, Keyspan, National Grid, Pfizer, Entergy, and the association of large energy users called The Energy Consortium have all backed the idea. Resistance came mainly from the owners of large coal-fired power plants who will now be required to clean up their emissions, or finance somebody else who can.
"It's the same story we've seen a thousand times before: A small group of big energy companies gnashing their teeth because they have a vested financial stake in business as usual," said Seth Kaplan, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. "It's a handful of special interests saying that progress is a bad thing. Well, progress is a good thing for the Northeast economy and the people whose jobs depend on it."
A recent analysis commissioned by the governors predicted the state climate accord would actually save typical residential customers about $50 per year at current levels of state energy efficiency investment. And the researchers concluded that states could more than double those household savings by using funds raised by the new initiative to increase efficiency investment and incentives even further.
Market-Based Strategy Unleashes Innovation
Under RGGI each state will have its own emissions limit based on an overall regional objective, and will regulate only the power plants located within its boundaries. Companies that find ways to reduce pollution cheaply will need fewer pollution permits and can sell excess "allowances" at a profit to companies that can't - an incentive structure that rewards rapid innovation while cutting overall costs for everyone.
This approach is similar to the highly successful program introduced by President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s to address the acid rain problem. That program has achieved better results at a much lower cost than even optimists estimated at the time of its launch.
"We applaud the policymakers, environmental leaders, and businesses who worked so hard to develop this landmark agreement that will spur investments in the emerging clean energy economy." said Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres, and Director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), whose members manage more than $3 trillion.
The Northeast program would also allow states outside of the region to participate, and might eventually be extended to cover not just power plant carbon dioxide emissions, but all stationary global warming pollution sources, as well as additional heat trapping emissions such as methane and sulfur dioxide.
Next Up: The Details
A great many of the finer details of the plan remain to be worked out, and groups will be working to make sure regulators hold firm against special interest pressures. Consumer and environmental groups that have worked hard to make sure government negotiators didn't yield to special interest demands say they will continue bird-dogging regulators to make sure that RGGI achieves maximum results.
"The states have a great opportunity to demonstrate how to reduce global warming pollution while actually making energy more affordable for consumers by promoting energy efficiency," said Derek Murrow, Policy Director for Environment Northeast. "We will be working in all of the states to ensure that the final rules deliver on this promise."
"This is a significant step forward for all of us and the governors should be applauded for showing the world that Americans are committed to crafting innovative and effective solutions in order to meet the global challenge posed by climate change," said Cindy Luppi, Clean Water Action Organizing Director.
The governors' announcement comes just days after scientists with the World Meteorological Organization revealed that 2005 is the second hottest year on record, continuing a dangerously rapid warming trend that experts say can only be explained by rising levels of heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere.