Power plants produce about one-third of all greenhouse gases in the US. On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency released a new proposal designed to ensure that by 2030 carbon dioxide emission from power plants would be 30 percent lower than they were in 2005.
In some parts of the country, that’s a fairly ambitious target. But not here in Massachusetts. We’ve already cut our power plant emissions significantly since 2005, and we’re easily on pace to meet the targets in the proposal. These reductions were achieved as part of a cooperatve, multi-state approach called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI for short (pronounced Reggie).
The way it works is that power plants in nine Northeast states have to pay for the right to emit carbon dioxide. The more you emit, the more you have to pay. This does two things:
1) It creates an incentive for power plants to produce energy in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
2) It provides money the state can use to support renewable energy and help improve energy efficiency.
This kind of cap-and-trade system, as it’s called, could be expanded for the US as a whole, but it would take an act of Congress. So the EPA, which is required to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, has opted for an approach involving new mandates and regulations.
One of the options they’re giving states, however, is to create a system like RGGI, or even to join ours. In that sense, you can think of the new proposal as saying something like: if, as a country, we want to start addressing climate change and reducing the emissions from power plants, we could follow the example set by Massachusetts and RGGI.