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Benefits of Northeast climate initiative are bountiful, even as few states divert funds to close budget gaps

Dale Bryk

Posted December 2, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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In Sunday’s New York Times, oil-industry-funded lobbyists and a New Jersey legislator rightly criticized three states for diverting funds from an innovative 10-state northeastern clean energy program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). But the article only touches on the plethora of additional benefits we’re already seeing from this clean energy initiative, despite these poor decisions in a few states.

The primary goal of RGGI is to reduce pollution and keep more of our energy dollars in the region, instead of sending them out-of-state to buy fossil fuels, and it is doing just that. Northeasterners are enjoying millions in benefits as states have invested the majority of the $729 million collected from the sale of pollution permits in energy efficiency and renewable energy in participating states. 

I’ve extolled some of RGGI’s virtues in previous posts. Among them: Pollution is down 30%. Hundreds of contractors in the region have found work weatherizing homes and installing solar panels. Homeowners and businesses are saving 30% or more on their energy bills. And let’s not forget that cleaning up our power sector will enable us to avoid the potentially catastrophic impacts of global climate disruption and the hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits and tens of thousands of premature deaths that power plant pollution causes each year.

Yes, consumers in New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire would benefit even more if their states had not diverted a portion of the funds to help fill the gaping holes in their budgets. But the benefits to our region from RGGI are plentiful and still can’t be matched by the business-as-usual dirty energy economy. RGGI is creating jobs, reducing energy bills, cleaning up our air, and improving our health throughout the Northeast.

So the diversion of funds is hardly the travesty the critics in the Times piece painted it to be. And it’s worth emphasizing that these critics, Americans for Prosperity, are funded by oil giant Koch Industries, the only ones who really stand to lose here. If your primary business is selling fossil fuels or operating antiquated coal plants, the new energy economy is not very appealing. But the long and diverse list of RGGI’s business supporters – from National Grid, the largest electric utility in the region, to Staples and Pfizer  – attests to the fact that many more firms are taking advantage of opportunities for growth and increased competitiveness by becoming more energy efficient themselves and delivering energy efficiency and a cleaner more diverse mix of power supply resources to their customers. 

At the RGGI website you can read more about the homeowners, businesses and local governments reaping the greatest benefits. One such business is Madison Paper in Maine, which expects to save $2 million a year from a new system that captures and reuses waste heat. In New Hampshire, the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center is sending fewer dollars to places like Iran to import oil, and instead paying local firms to supply heat via a wood chip-fired system. Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum is saving $9,000 a year thanks to energy efficiency improvements, including an upgrade to their HVAC system.

Simply put, the smartest thing states can do to drive economic well-being is to shift energy investments from dirty old fossil fuel plants to energy efficiency programs. According to a 2009 report by the research and advocacy group Environment Northeast, if six Northeastern states sufficiently invested in energy efficiency over the next 15 years we can add $99 billion to the Northeast’s regional economy. Ninety-nine billion dollars and 80,000 new jobs, in 15 years, funded, in part, by RGGI. That means our energy dollars will go toward paying local contractors to weatherize our homes, upgrading our heating and air-conditioning systems and installing solar panels. All of these things reduce our demand for electricity from power plants, which puts downward pressure on energy prices and allows us to reduce the amount of money we send out of our communities to import fossil fuels.

So if Americans for Prosperity are as genuinely interested in promoting prosperity as their name suggests, RGGI and other energy efficiency programs are the first places they should look.

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Comments

MichaelDec 3 2010 09:00 AM

Thanks for the positive post Gale. At Crotched Mountain we've undertaken many projects to make our campus more sustainable. We're pleased that a lot of organizations and businesses have visited us to learn more about our work and the dhhw plant plant that uses biomass from the other side of the Mountain. We've saved a bundle too which means we can put more dollars to work supporting our mission to people with disabilities.
Michael Redmond, COO, Crotched Mountain Foundation

MichaelDec 3 2010 09:01 AM

Apologies, I meant to type Dale.

Jose ReyesDec 3 2010 01:44 PM

"The primary goal of RGGI is to reduce pollution and keep more of our energy dollars in the region, instead of sending them out-of-state to buy fossil fuels, and it is doing just that."

Unequivocally false. Carbon emissions have fallen because of reduced demand after the recession and because use of natural gas among electricity producers has increased in lieu of coal.

http://newjersey.watchdog.org/

The "virtues of RGGI?" Subsidies and welfare. Thanks for pointing that out.

No need to mention that the hundreds of millions being spent comes out of the pockets of ratepayers and businesses and kills jobs.

"And let’s not forget that cleaning up our power sector will enable us to avoid the potentially catastrophic impacts of global climate disruption and the hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits and tens of thousands of premature deaths that power plant pollution causes each year."

Completely ridiculous. CO2 is a small part of the atmosphere. Capping carbon emissions will do little if anything for centuries -- but it certainly will kill jobs and force people to live like it were the 1800's.

"RGGI is creating jobs?" Prove it. All of these millions being poured into green energy subsidies for wind, solar, etc. Yet unemployment remains high. In NJ specifically, where RGGI exists, it remains high. Where are all these jobs then? Show us the facts. Don't just spew your nonsense. Don't throw biased reports from pro-green groups at us. The Heritage Foundation and other think tanks show the exact opposite.

In fact, when do subsidies ever build a sustained industry. One need look no further than the farming industry to see how subsidies are a failure and distort the market.

So, back it up. Show us the jobs.

Good luck.

Don ShumwayDec 3 2010 06:59 PM

Using RGGI funds to switch from oil to local woodchips (ie the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center reference) means spending fuel dollars to support the local wood products industries. The fuel comes from the sawmill nearby, the guys who do the work live nearby, and the fuel itself promotes the value of the local land. Sounds like it creates jobs to me!

Dale BrykDec 6 2010 01:15 PM

Thanks for the comments, guys. Mr. Reyes, you are certainly correct that pollution is down in the region for a host of reasons, not only because of the RGGI pollution cap. But when the economy recovers and gas prices go up again, the cap will ensure that pollution stays down.

Please take a look at my next blog post to learn more about the kinds of jobs RGGI and other clean energy policies have already created in New Jersey. These jobs, and the associated energy savings, are the bright spot in the region’s economy. Yes, unemployment remains far too high. But it will be a lot worse if we just continue burning coal in 19th-century power plants and allow energy bills to rise unchecked.

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