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Northeastern States Vow to Cut Carbon Emissions 30% by 2030

Officials with Connecticut and the eight other Northeastern states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) announced Wednesday that they have tentatively agreed to more stringent air pollution restrictions through 2030.

By Luther Turmelle

Officials with Connecticut and the eight other Northeastern states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) announced Wednesday that they have tentatively agreed to more stringent air pollution restrictions through 2030.

The agreement reached by the states calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent, when compared to levels set for 2020.

RGGI states already have significantly reduced power sector carbon emissions, cutting them almost in half. The proposed new 2030 cap will be more than 65 percent lower than RGGI's 2009 starting cap.

A hearing on the proposal by the RGGI states to make their emissions rules more stringent will be held Sept. 25.

The agreement to further expand the reduction of emissions comes as the administration of President Donald Trump has announced plans to pull out of international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Connecticut energy and environment officials applauded the toughening of standards by states participating in the RGGI program.

"The success of the RGGI program -- and the proposals to make it even more effective -- stand in sharp contrast to the Trump administration's shortsighted and wholesale retreat on climate issues," Malloy said in a statement. "Despite what deniers say, there is no doubt that climate change is real and is happening, and that the burning of fossil fuels contributes significantly to the dangers we face. No matter the mood in Washington, Connecticut and the other RGGI states will continue moving forward with this highly effective and innovative regional initiative, and with other efforts to support energy efficiency and the deployment of clean energy systems within our borders."

Peter Shattuck of the Boston-based environmental group Acadia Center and director of the group's Clean Energy Initiative, said the federal government's withdrawal from international efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses "has created a void that is being filled by the states through groups like RGGI." Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont are Connecticut's partners in RGGI, which makes the group a formidable force in international efforts to reduce global warming, according to Shattuck.

"The RGGI states combined represent the sixth-largest economy in the world," he said. Acadia Center is a Boston-based environmental group with offices in Connecticut.

RGGI is what is commonly known as a cap-and-trade program, a term used to describe one of the mechanisms available for reducing air pollution in a nation or region while still allowing regulated companies some flexibility to meet standards that have been established.

Under such a system, companies are issued credits based on how large they are and what industries they are in. If a company's air pollution emission comes in below its allotted level under the credits, it has extra credits it may trade with other companies.

The history of cap and trade emissions programs can be traced back to the administration of President George H.W. Bush. The concept created an unusual alliance between environmental groups and free market economists, said Joel Gordes, a West Hartford-based energy consultant.

"There is huge support for this kind of program because it reduces pollution, but does it with a market driven mechanism, which makes Republicans happy," Gordes said.

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee said the state's participation in RGGI has helped reduce power sector emissions in the state by 32 percent, putting the state on a path to meet its goals for reducing emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 2001 levels by 2050.

In addition to reducing greenhouse gases in the region, the RGGI program also stimulates economic growth, with participating states receiving revenues generated by the auction of carbon allowances under the program.

From 2008 to 2015, Connecticut has received $155 million in proceeds from the auction. More than 90 percent of these proceeds are invested in energy efficiency projects and clean and renewable energy.

Shattuck said under the new proposal being put forth by RGGI, Connecticut is expected to receive an additional $40 million in auction proceeds between now and 2030.

State officials say the money Connecticut already has received from the auction avoided the production of more than 450,000 tons of CO2 and provided $150,000 in customer energy bill savings.

State statute requires that 69.5 percent of RGGI auction proceeds are distributed to the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund (CEEF), the Connecticut Municipal Energy Cooperative (CMEEC), and the Town of Wallingford's Electric Division. Another 23 percent goes to the Connecticut Green Bank.

(c)2017 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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