By Tony Clifford
In the next few weeks, Gov. Larry Hogan has a chance to secure a big win for our state’s economy and cleaner air.
The pioneering Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has already helped slash carbon pollution from Maryland power plants by more than 40% and is a key pillar in our state’s plan to address climate change, is undergoing a review.
Maryland is a founding member of RGGI, the nation’s first carbon pollution permits trading market, which requires power plant owners to meet a regional carbon emissions cap by moving to cleaner technologies or buying and trading an ever-decreasing amount of pollution permits for sale.
Maryland and eight other mid-Atlantic and Northeast states participate in RGGI, which was launched in 2009. Gov. Hogan and the other RGGI state governors are negotiating the terms of this carbon market out to 2030.
They are expected to decide in the coming weeks how much more they want to reduce power plant emissions in the coming years.
By supporting the strongest RGGI carbon cap on the table – an emissions cut of 3% per year, with an extra turbo boost at the start – rather than the weakest, Maryland could help cut 99 million more tons of carbon pollution, while generating an additional $718 million in auction revenues that can be directed toward other clean energy programs that cut Marylanders’ utility bills and create new jobs.
Supported in poll
Marylanders have made clear that they support RGGI and want to see an even stronger program moving forward. According to a 2016 poll, more than 8 in 10 Marylanders support doubling the program’s annual carbon pollution cuts to 5% annually, even stronger than what the RGGI states have been considering.
Avoiding power plant pollution through RGGI is smart economics, saves money, and protects our health. RGGI generates money for state programs by requiring polluters to buy emissions permit at quarterly auctions.
Since 2009, Maryland has invested its share of the RGGI auction proceeds into numerous popular and successful programs, including funding for local communities to adopt energy efficient and renewable energy technologies; incentives for cleaner and more fuel efficient vehicles; residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural energy efficiency; and energy bill assistance for low-income families.
Jobs and savings
These investments have helped contribute 3,845 years of full-time work in the state, have helped grow the state’s economy by more than $340 million, and are saving Marylanders $457 million on their energy bills so far.
For every dollar in RGGI revenues that Maryland and the other RGGI states have invested thus far, consumers are expected to save three dollars in avoided energy costs. That’s a great return.
A stronger RGGI pollution cap would provide even more funding for Maryland to support initiatives that save the state’s households and companies money, making our state even more attractive to businesses.
Reducing power plant emissions also has significant health benefits. In fact, a recent report estimates that, by cutting pollution like soot and smog alongside carbon, RGGI has prevented more than 1,000 asthma attacks and at least 36 deaths in Maryland since 2009.
Importantly, RGGI is also helping address climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions fuel storms and floods, extreme heat, saltwater intrusion from rising seas, and ecosystem degradation that could threaten Maryland’s fish and shellfish and tourism industries.
The last three years were the hottest on record. Thus far, 2017 has ranked as the second-hottest year on record globally. Unfortunately, it will only get worse unless we cut the pollution being pumped into our atmosphere here in Maryland and worldwide.
Recent history suggests Gov. Hogan should be open to strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. In 2016, the governor signed bipartisan legislation establishing an ambitious 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for our state. This was a big win for Maryland, but to achieve that target we also need to strengthen RGGI.
By leading boldly on RGGI and pushing for the strongest possible emissions reductions, the governor can protect Maryland’s citizens, economy, and natural resources while securing major benefits for Maryland families and businesses.
Let’s hope he can help persuade the other eight governors that a tighter pollution cap benefits all of us.
Tony Clifford is the chief development officer at Standard Solar, Inc., based in Rockville.