By Bruce Ho, Natural Resources Defense Council
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan – a federal rule requiring power plants to clean up their carbon pollution – threatens to sicken and kill tens of thousands of Americans and put millions more at risk from extreme weather and other impacts of climate change.
Pruitt’s attempt is the latest in the Trump Administration’s dangerous campaign of climate change denial, and is a wake-up call for state and local leaders: if you want to protect your citizens, it’s time to take action yourselves because the Trump-Pruitt EPA has shown it’s more interested in protecting polluters than the health of Americans.
Thankfully, many state and local leaders, including the governors of the nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), are doing just that: moving ahead with plans for cleaner air and energy sources that will protect public health, create jobs, and save customers billions of dollars on their energy bills too.
RGGI’s Bold Plan of Climate Action
Last month, the RGGI states – Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont – announced they will slash carbon pollution from power plants by at least another 30 percent by 2030. Their commitment builds on the more than 40 percent reduction in emissions that the states have already achieved since they launched RGGI, an innovative, first-in-the-nation market to cut carbon pollution, in 2009.
Though limited to its participating states, the latest RGGI agreement will go further than the Clean Power Plan in this region. In fact, with emissions falling to 79.2 million tons in 2016, the RGGI states have already achieved their Clean Power Plan targets – 14 years early – and their new commitment to a regional carbon pollution limit of 54.7 million tons in 2030 is nearly a third lower than what the Clean Power Plan would require.
The states are taking these bold steps to tackle climate change on a bipartisan basis, led by RGGI’s five Republican and four Democratic governors (and counting!).
A Climate Program That Grows the Economy
At the same time that RGGI has been lowering emissions, it’s been providing numerous other benefits to the states and their citizens. To date, RGGI has:
- Saved customers $773 million on their energy bills, including $155 million in 2015 alone, with billions more expected, thanks to energy efficiency and renewable energy investments funded under the program;
- Provided public health benefits valued at $5.7 billion, including preventing at least 8,200 asthma attacks, 39,000 lost work days, and 300 premature deaths, by also cutting other dangerous air pollutants like soot and smog alongside carbon;
- Contributed at least $2.9 billion in regional economic growth; and
- Boosted regional employment by more than 30,000 job-years (one year of full-time employment for one person).
Electricity prices have fallen in the region at the same time that non-RGGI states have seen price increases. And the RGGI states’ economies have grown faster than the rest of the country, even as the region has cut its carbon pollution to a greater extent.
The economic and public health gains under RGGI show why cleaning up the power sector by extending the Clean Power Plan’s protections to the rest of the country makes so much sense. If the RGGI states can generate these benefits by cutting carbon, so can other states, which is precisely what EPA’s original Clean Power Plan analysis showed.
A Ready-Made Model for Other States
NRDC will continue to defend the Clean Power Plan from the Trump-Pruitt EPA’s attempts to undermine climate progress, but states don’t have to wait to see how these fights play out to take action.
As RGGI shows, states that lead the fight against climate change are reaping the rewards for their citizens. Other states are leading this charge too. California recently extended its carbon market as part of its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. The U.S. Climate Alliance – a bipartisan coalition of 14 states, including six from RGGI, and Puerto Rico – has pledged to live up to our country’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, even if President Trump won’t.
One of the easiest ways for other states to get in on the action would be to join RGGI. This proven, carbon-cutting, economy-growing machine offers a ready-made model for state climate action. States like New Jersey and Virginia are already poised to join, and the RGGI states have made clear that they would welcome other partners as well.
Trump and Pruitt appear hell bent on causing as much damage to our health, environment, and global standing as they can. But no matter how hard they try, they can’t and won’t stop climate action. Thanks to leaders like RGGI, that train has already left the station.