EPA to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants- Maine is already leading the way with RGGI

Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

Maine has been a leader in clean energy and efficiency, with a plan enacted during the Baldacci administration working with lawmakers. During that time Maine became part of the New England state’s cap-and-trade carbon trade system, know as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, (RGGI).

However, the state is still at the mercy of winds that carry pollution here. That’s why President Barack Obama’s EPA proposal to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants by 30 percent nationally and by about 14 percent in Maine by 2030 is critical. Carbon emissions are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States and power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

While there are limits in place for the level of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution that power plants can emit, there are no national limits on carbon pollution levels.

“The EPA’s plan will allow states like Maine to build on the strong work we’ve already been doing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” said Congressman Mike Michaud. “Over the last 9 years, emissions from power plants in the nine states participating in RGGI have dropped by more than 40 percent. That is a very important step forward, and this proposal – when taken with Maine’s cutting-edge clean energy initiatives – positions Maine to be a leader in the clean energy sector. That means more jobs, lower utility bills and cleaner air for all Mainers.”

RGGI has been very successful bringing over $51,000 million to Maine to help energy efficiency for businesses and citizens.

"There's a chance to add jobs, too," said Emery Deabay, a representative of the United Steel Workers Local 1188 “REGGI has helped some steel mills that used to burn coal and No. 6 fuel oil change to natural gas and wood chips.”

RGGI also saved jobs where Deabay works.

This graph shows how well RGGI is working. The North Eastern states, including Maine, rank low on state-by-state carbon intensity.

“The Gulf of Maine is Ground Zero for ocean acidification," said Mark Green, an oceanographer from Saint Joseph's College and oyster farmer. “Ocean acidification is caused by carbon dioxide dissolving into the ocean to create carbonic acid, which lowers the pH of the ocean, making it more acidic and endangering our fishing industry. These EPA steps are a huge step forward."

Michaud is a long-time supporter of RGGI. States participating in RGGI include Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Proceeds from the sale of RGGI CO2 allowances have enabled the RGGI states to invest over $700 million in energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy, and other strategic energy programs. To date 3 million households and more than 12,000 businesses are participating in RGGI funded programs.

“Reducing our carbon footprint isn’t just beneficial to Maine’s overall population health, it’s an important step toward reducing our overall costs and strengthening our clean energy initiatives,” added Michaud. “I’m proud of the work underway in Maine to ensure our state can be a leader in producing clean energy. Tackling carbon pollution and focusing on the development of clean energy is how we secure our future.”

With the Clean Power Plan, EPA is proposing guidelines that build on trends already underway in states and the power sector to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants.

"RGGI will continue to provide economic benefits for us while the rest of the country to catches up with us," said Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

By 2030, the steady steps EPA is taking will:

  • Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year;
  • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;
  • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and
  • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

“The EPA is giving states flexibility in figuring out how to reduce carbon pollution, but clearly one way to do it is to move away from old coal-fired power plants and invest in clean energy like wind and tidal power. Maine has already started to develop those businesses and this new rule could give a boost to that industry,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

In 2012, power plants that burn fossil fuels in Maine generated an estimated 437 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. The EPA is recommending that Maine lower that rate to 378 pounds per megawatt hour by the year 2030.