Can good governance cut greenhouse gases?

Back in 2009, nine states in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including Maryland, joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and over the next few days, that project is undergoing a review, giving Gov Larry Hogan a chance to keep the state’s leading role in reducing carbon emissions, writes Tony Clifford for Maryland Reporter.com.

Something is working

RGGI carbon emissions from Acadia Center
Carbon emissions drop greatly after 2008 (Acadia Center)

Several factors no doubt led to the reductions in carbon emissions seen, and the nine states involved in the RGGI don’t amount to a worldwide reduction in carbon emissions. But, combined with an undeniable growth in renewable energy, efficiency improvements at power plants, and fuel-switching, the RGGI has played a significant role, at least locally.

The initiative works by forcing power plants either to reduce their total greenhouse gas emissions or to buy an increasingly limited number of permits at auction. The money from the auctioning of those permits is used to pay for other programs in local communities aimed at getting people to reduce their use of fossil fuels.

With a decision expected over the next few weeks as to how much the initiative will cut emissions, Mr Clifford calls for the maximum reduction in greenhouse gas emissions:

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.

I support the initiative and would like to see other states join in similar efforts. It’s the right idea, for as greenhouse gas emissions go up, so do the effects of climate change. And although not all climate change is bad, some of it can be very destructive:

Despite the positives of reducing carbon emissions—jobs, renewable energy resources, less flooding, fewer severe storms, and so on—the RGGI itself has suffered some public relations setbacks. The PR crew at the RGGI hasn’t addressed many of the side effects of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, including costs to upgrade the plants potentially being passed onto customers.

On top of the economics, though, there may also be an increase in total greenhouse gas emissions locally, even as emissions from the power plant stacks go down.

The analysis here would be similar to that of recycling water bottles. Although recycling reduces the amount of trash in landfills and saves energy in that products don’t have to be manufactured again, gasoline (a fossil fuel) is used by recycling vehicles to pick up the water bottles and transport them to the recycling facility, which probably doesn’t run on solar energy. In other words, there are hidden carbon emissions involved with recycling water bottles that wouldn’t be incurred by our environment if we had just dumped them in a landfill.

But the analysis is complex when it comes to ancillary costs of recycling or of switching to clean-energy solutions, and there are ways to reduce these effects. The RGGI doesn’t look at those and leaves it up to local companies and governments to enact or enable mitigating strategies for some of the side effects.

About the Author

Paul Katula

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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