New RGGI Northeast Climate Pact strengthened with new law passed unanimously in Maine

 By Ramona du Houx

On February 28,2018 a bill passed unanimously by the Maine Legislature has become law, reauthorizing Maine to remain part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) through 2030, and ensuring deeper pollution cuts from power plants. 

 Since RGGI’s inception Maine has brought in $91,909,096.27 for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. Many of these programs and projects are managed through the Efficiency Maine Trust, set up by the Baldacci administration in 2007.

LD 1657, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Tucker, was prepared by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection after the nine  northeast states agreed last fall on the new joint pollution limits for 2021-2030.  It became law without Governor Paul LePage's signature at midnight last night.

“Cutting carbon pollution is essential to protect the Maine we love, and RGGI shows it is also a ticket to prosperity,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. 

RGGI is a cooperative market-based effort among nine northeastern states to reduce climate-changing carbon pollution from power plants and spur money-saving investments in energy efficiency and clean energy. 

“The Legislature’s unanimous vote to continue and increase RGGI’s pollution reductions and energy savings is great news for our environment, our economy, and reducing energy bills,” said Voorhees. “RGGI is saving money for Mainers by improving the energy efficiency of our homes and businesses, and spurring clean energy investments  that create quality Maine jobs. Since 2012, RGGI funds have saved Mainers $277 million on energy bills.” 

The RGGI states are home to one-sixth of the population in the U.S. and one-fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product. If the nine RGGI states were a single nation, it would be the 13th largest carbon emitter in the world. This demonstrates the global significance to Maine’s climate pact at a time when the Trump Administration is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord. Virginia and New Jersey are now taking steps to join and rejoin RGGI, too, further indication of its success. 

The initiative, which began in 2009, requires power plants in the nine states to abide by overall limits to carbon pollution. That “cap” is reduced each year, currently by two percent per year and by 2.5 percent per year after 2020 under the new plan and LD 1657. Maine invests funds raised by auctioning carbon credits to support energy efficiency improvements, overseen by Efficiency Maine. (This approach is sometimes called “cap and invest.”)

Between FY 2012 and FY 2017, Efficiency Maine used $54 million in RGGI funds to leverage $88 million in private investment and achieve $277 million in energy savings for Maine homes and businesses. Independent economic analysis of RGGI has shown that it has a net positive impact on the economy of Maine and the entire region.

The clean air and health benefits of RGGI have also been analyzed in detail, finding at least $5.7 billion in quantified public health benefits,300 to 830 lives saved, and more than 8,200 asthma attacks avoided.

Climate change is one of the single greatest threats to Maine’s environment. A failure to reduce carbon pollution swiftly threatens our industries from marine fisheries to tourism. Climate change will also attack our health with more polluted air and insect-borne diseases like Lyme. That’s why large, cooperative, innovative policies like RGGI are so critical.

“We applaud the Maine DEP for its cooperative approach to RGGI within the region, and the leadership of Commissioner Mercer for shepherding through this important legislation. We also congratulate the Environment and Natural Resources Committee co-chairs, Rep. Ralph Tucker (D-Brunswick) and Sen. Tom Saviello (R-Franklin), for continuing the bipartisan legacy of RGGI,” says Voorhees.

RGGI History —

The first pre-compliance RGGI auction took place in September 2008, and the program became effective on January 1, 2009.

In 2003, governors from Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont began discussions to develop a regional cap-and-trade program addressing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

On December 20, 2005, seven of those states announced an agreement to implement RGGI, as outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Governor's of Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. The MOU, as amended, provides the outlines of RGGI. New Jersey is the only state to opt-out of the program under Governor Christie’s leadership, missing out on millions of revenues.

When RGGI was adopted by the Maine Legislature in 2007, the votes were 35-0 in the Senate and 130-7 in the House.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, the participating RGGI states conducted a thorough, transparent “Program Review” of RGGI, the second such review to date. They found that the program was working well to lower carbon emissions and providing economic benefits. In fact, the states found that emissions were going down faster and at lower costs than expected, allowing them to accelerate RGGI and capture those cheap carbon cuts.

Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2 allowance auctions exceed $2.8 billion dollars