A bill passed unanimously by the Maine Legislature to remain part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative through 2030 became law without the governor’s signature.
LD 1657, “An Act To Update the Allowance Budget for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” was prepared by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection after nine Northeast states agreed last fall on new pollution limits for 2021-2030 that included deeper pollution cuts from power plants.
RGGI is a cooperative market-based effort among nine Northeast states to reduce climate-changing carbon pollution from power plants and spur money-saving investments in energy efficiency and clean energy. The initiative, which began in 2009, requires power plants in the nine states to abide by overall limits to carbon pollution. That “cap” is reduced each year, currently by 2% per year and by 2.5% per year after 2020 under the new plan and LD 1657.
In an approach sometimes referred to as “cap and invest,” Maine invests funds raised by auctioning carbon credits to support energy efficiency improvements that are overseen by Efficiency Maine.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, a strong supporter of RGGI and the bill, reported that between fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2017, Efficiency Maine used $54 million in RGGI funds to leverage $88 million in private investment and achieve $277 million in energy savings for Maine homes and businesses.
An independent economic analysis of RGGI in 2015 by Analysis Group showed that it has had a net positive impact on the economy of Maine and the entire region, while a separate analysis of its clean air and health benefits by Abt Associates reported at least $5.7 billion in quantified public health benefits, 300 to 830 lives saved and more than 8,200 asthma attacks avoided for the Northeast states.
“Cutting carbon pollution is essential to protect the Maine we love, and RGGI shows it is also a ticket to prosperity,” said Dylan Voorhees, NRCM’s clean energy director, said in a statement sent to Mainebiz. “The Legislature’s unanimous vote to continue and increase RGGI’s pollution reductions and energy savings is great news for our environment, our economy, and reducing energy bills. RGGI is saving money for Mainers by improving the energy efficiency of our homes and businesses, and spurring clean energy investments that create quality Maine jobs. Since 2012, RGGI funds have saved Mainers $277 million on energy bills.”
Voorhees applauded the Maine DEP Commissioner Paul Mercer “for shepherding through this important legislation” and the bipartisan leadership of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee co-chairmen, Rep. Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick, and Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Franklin, in gaining the Legislature’s unanimous support.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was started in 2005 by a Republican governor who sought a market-based approach to addressing climate change and it has since enjoyed substantial bipartisan support. Today the RGGI states are led by five Republican governors and four Democrats. When RGGI was adopted by the Maine Legislature in 2007, the votes were 35-0 in the Senate and 130-7 in the House.
Throughout 2016 and 2017, the participating RGGI states conducted a thorough, transparent “Program Review” of RGGI, the second such review to date. They found that the program was working well to lower carbon emissions and providing economic benefits. In fact, the states found that emissions were going down faster and at lower costs than expected, allowing them to accelerate RGGI and capture those cheap carbon cuts.
The nine RGGI states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — are home to one-sixth of the population in the U.S. and one-fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product.
According the the Natural Resources Council of Maine, If the nine RGGI states were a single nation, it would be the 13th largest carbon emitter in the world.This demonstrates the global significance to Maine’s climate pact at a time when the Trump Administration is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord.
Virginia and New Jersey are now taking steps to join and rejoin RGGI, according to NRCM.