Emissions are dropping in the Northeast US, pointing to the success of the only operational cap-and-trade program in the US - the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Since it was established in 2008, regional carbon emissions are an impressive 23% lower on average than the previous three years, RGGI reports.
Carbon emissions have declined while electricity consumption remained fairly stable, down just 2.4% across the 10-state region during 2008-2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Collectively, the states cut carbon emissions 33% below the annual pollution cap of 188 million short tons.
RGGI focuses only on power plants with a goal of cutting carbon emissions 10% below 1990 levels by the end of 2018. Participating states are: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. New Jersey pulled out at the end of 2011.
Major power producers buy allowances at auction for each ton of carbon they emit, spending roughly $912 million over the years. The
"Five years ago, critics were saying climate programs like RGGI couldn't succeed in the U.S.," says David Littell, Vice-Chair of RGGI and Commissioner of Maine's Public Utilities Commission.
"Now, we are seeing significant emissions reductions in the context of economic recovery as we switch to cleaner fuels and learn to use energy smarter. In fact, RGGI has allowed companies to stay competitive and reduce their energy expenditures to weather the recession and come out stronger," he says.
Over the three years, RGGI added economic value worth more than $1.6 billion to the region, savings of $1.3 billion on utility bills over the next decade because of energy efficiency upgrades, and put $765 million in the local economy because of lower demand for fossil fuels. And it's created 16,000 green jobs.
States can spend their proceeds as they wish, but the most popular use of funds has been to plow them into energy efficiency programs. Other spending includes worker training, community-based renewable energy projects, bill-payment assistance to low-income and other energy customers, land protection, and contributions to the general fund to help close budget gaps.
Efforts to roll back RGGI are fueled by Americans for Prosperity, a corporate front group bankrolled by some of the nation's leading polluters, including Koch Industries. ALEC provides the legislative template, State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives.
More on New Jersey
New Jersey Governor Christie plans to take another $279 million from the state's clean energy fund, on top of the $466 million he's already raided to close budget gaps. The fund, which uses a surcharge on utility bills to provide rebates for energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy project, has made it a US leader in solar installations.
And the state is being sued for pulling out of the RGGI because neither the Governor or the NJ Department of Environmental Protection followed legal due process in doing so.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and Environment New Jersey filed suit today, noting that polls show NJ residents overwhelmingly support the goals of RGGI.
"Governor Christie should heed their call and stick with the program, rather than listen to out-of-state interests in the dirty fuel industry that are calling for him to drop out," says NRDC senior attorney Luis Martinez.
"Governor Christie unilaterally made his decision to leave RGGI - without taking any input from stakeholders or the public," says Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey. "As we contend today, his actions are not only bad public policy, but also illegal. The people of New Jersey have spoken out overwhelmingly in support of RGGI - to date, over 50,000 New Jerseyans have called or written their elected officials urging them to stand up for RGGI . And the Legislature twice voted to keep NJ in the RGGI. And yet, the governor refuses to listen."
Since the Governor dissolved the program without providing notice of their intent to repeal the regulation, allowing time for comment, the groups contend the program is still law.
During New Jersey's participation in RGGI, sales of pollution permits generated $159 million in local benefits, including $125 million for the state to invest in local, job-creating energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. It created 1,800 job-years worth of work.
Governor Christie has diverted over half of those funds to plug budget holes. A recent report by Environment New Jersey shows that, by staying in RGGI, NJ could realize $680 million in additional revenue for clean energy projects.
Here's the RGGI website: