9 states, including RI, agree to deeper cuts in carbon emissions

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island and the eight other states that are part of a decade-old compact to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions announced Wednesday they have reached an agreement for further cuts through 2030.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) said the governors have agreed to an emissions cap of 75.15 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2021 and a 30% cut from that level over the subsequent decade. If successful, by 2030 the initiative will have reduced carbon emissions in the Northeast by more than 65% since it began in 2009, officials said.

Under the RGGI cap-and-trade system, power plants are required to buy permits for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit, and the permits can be traded. Permit auctions had generated $2.7 billion in proceeds as of June, of which Rhode Island had received $57.6 million, according to RGGI.

“As a coastal state, Rhode Island is uniquely vulnerable to climate change,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a statement announcing Rhode Island’s support for the new agreement. “RGGI plays an important role to make Rhode Island’s energy system cleaner and our green economy stronger,” she added.

A public meeting on the proposed changes will be held Sept. 25. The other eight members of RGGI are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.

Jackson Morris, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Eastern Energy Project, praised the governors for expanding RGGI but encouraged them to do more.

“We hope the states will build on their success to next address the region’s largest source of climate-warming carbon pollution – the transportation sector,” Morris said in a statement. “Cutting emissions from tailpipes, as well as power plants, is key to solving climate change in the RGGI region and nationwide.”

Travis Madsen, state climate campaign director for Environment Rhode Island, argued the proposed carbon cap isn’t tight enough.

“While the states are moving in a positive direction, this proposal falls short of what’s needed to truly tackle the climate crisis,” Madsen said. “We urge the leaders of these states to strengthen the proposal in the coming weeks.”

The new RGGI cap was announced the same day the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a free-market advocacy group, criticized state leaders for prioritizing renewable energy and failing to increase the supply of natural gas. The organization linked the policies to National Grid’s decision to hike electric rates by double-digits starting in October.

Raimondo signed a law last year extending Rhode Island’s Renewable Energy Standard from 2019 to 2035, and requiring National Grid to buy at least 40% of its power from renewable sources by the end of that time frame.

“Rhode Island has gone from a laggard to a leader in renewable energy over the past six years,” Rep. Deb Ruggiero, a Jamestown Democrat who sponsored the law, said at the time.

Another measure, the Resilient Rhode Island Act signed in 2014 by then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee, calls for the state to slash its carbon emissions to 85% below 1990 levels by the year 2050. At the time it was described as “the most ambitious mitigation goal in the nation.”

As of 2013, Rhode Island’s greenhouse-gas emissions were 11% higher than 1990 levels but down more than 3% since 2011, according to Rose Jones, a spokeswoman for the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.

“The power mix and emissions in any one state can decrease or increase over any given period even while regional emissions decrease overall,” Jones noted in an email.

Earlier this year Raimondo and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker both signed onto the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition put together to deal with climate change after President Trump announced his decision to pull the country out of the Paris accord.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook