Success of Maine Program Paved Way for New Federal Standards
Portland and Augusta—In the most significant step the United States has ever taken to reduce the pollution causing global warming, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced the first-ever national carbon pollution standards for existing power plants. The action is so significant because power plants are responsible for 40 percent of total U.S. carbon pollution, and currently there are no national limits whatsoever on how much of this pollution power plants can emit. The proposed rules build on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in place in Maine and eight other states, which has reduced carbon pollution from power plants in the Northeast by 40 percent since 2008, while generating more than $30 million for energy efficiency investments in Maine alone. The rules allow Maine and the region to meet the standards by continuing RGGI. In addition to helping protect current and future generations of Mainers from the impacts of global warming, the rules will improve air quality and public health by reducing mercury, smog, and soot from power plants.
A coalition of Maine organizations committed to fighting climate change hosted a telephone news conference after the announcement to discuss the implications for Maine.
“We are overjoyed by today’s announcement, which builds on Maine’s leadership and sets our whole country on the path to a cleaner and safer environment,” said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor. “This fight is about our future, but the effects of global warming are being felt right now in Maine by everyone from lobstermen to first responders to children with asthma. For far too long, coal companies and electric utilities have used their tremendous political muscle to escape common sense federal pollution limits, but today that finally changes.”
“Maine doesn’t have any coal or other fossil fuels; our energy advantage is renewable energy,” said Jackson Parker, CEO of Reed & Reed. “So state, regional, and federal policies to accelerate the shift toward clean energy sources benefit Maine’s construction industry. Building clean renewable energy sources like wind has provided enormous numbers of jobs and investment—I know because we’ve made some of those investments and created many of those jobs.”
The rules come on the heel of the U.S. government’s authoritative third National Climate Assessment, which, for the Northeast, found that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather events and flooding, contribute to significant sea level rise, and further threaten our marine fisheries.
“Maine’s shellfish fisheries are a critical part of the state’s identity and economy, and they depend closely on a clean environment,” said Mark Green, an oceanographer from Saint Joseph’s College and oyster farmer from Peak’s Island. “Carbon pollution from power plants is already warming the oceans and making them more acidic, which is very damaging for shellfish. It is imperative that we act now to curb this pollution if we want to keep these fisheries strong for future generations of Mainers.”
In addition to the benefits of reducing carbon pollution, a study released last week by Syracuse University and Harvard found “bonus” air quality, public health, and environmental benefits from strong carbon standards, due to reductions in other air pollutants from power plants that can make people sick; damage forests, crops, and lakes; and harm fish and wildlife. The power plants most affected by the new standards are the old, coal-fired plants, which are clustered in the Midwest and Southeast, upwind from Maine.
Maine will comply with the new federal standards through the successful and proven RGGI program. RGGI limits the amount of carbon pollution power plants throughout the Northeast can emit. Maine has devoted its revenue from sale of carbon credits under the program almost entirely to energy efficiency programs for residential, business, and large industrial consumers.
“RGGI has already saved Maine businesses and homeowners more than $250 million because Maine invests RGGI funds in cost-cutting energy efficiency improvements,” said Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “’Win-win’ may sound like a cliché, but RGGI is, in fact, a big win for both our environment and economy.”
An independent analysis of the net economic effect of RGGI’s first 2.5 years of operation found that the program boosted Maine’s economic output by $92 million by reinvesting program revenue in energy efficiency while saving or creating more than 900 jobs. Notably, electricity prices in Maine have dropped by 14 percent since the program has been in effect (2008-2013) and by 8 percent across all RGGI states, but increased by 6 percent in non-RGGI states.
“Maine has made very smart investments with our RGGI funds to make sure we are saving energy at Maine’s largest manufacturers,” said Emery Deabay, with the United Steelworkers union. “The more than $12 million in grants to our paper mills and other big manufacturers have lowered energy costs, keeping facilities viable in tough economic times. That’s critical for workers.”
The National Mining Association, some electric utilities, and other industry groups associated with coal are waging an aggressive misinformation campaign to derail the new proposal.
“Big polluters claim to be model corporate citizens who care about the communities they serve, but in reality they are guilty of treating our skies like open sewers and harming residents’ health, while resisting requirements to operate more safely and cleanly,” said Maureen Drouin, Executive Director of Maine Conservation Voters. “Already these polluters and their allies are attacking the EPA’s safeguards limiting carbon pollution from power plants. They’d rather poison the air than lose a penny in profits.”
Strong carbon pollution standards for power plants can save American households and business customers $37.4 billion on their electric bills in 2020 while creating more than 274,000 jobs, according to a new analysis released last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“We thank the President and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for their leadership, and look forward to cleaner and safer Maine communities powered by clean energy,” concluded Figdor.