A stellar regional program limiting emissions deserves support to set stronger goals that will curb ocean acidification and save our fisheries.
By Richard Nelson
Portland Press Herald op-ed
FRIENDSHIP — As a lobsterman for more than 30 years, I have a direct connection to the ocean and its abundance. It’s how I make my living, and I’ve seen it shape my way of life and the people around me. Fishing and seafood are an inextricable part of Maine’s heritage and culture, and it’s thanks to good conservation practices in the lobster fishery that we enjoy the bounty reflected in our record landings of late.
But keeping this way of life requires a continuation of good decision-making now – not only for the health of our ocean, but also for the health of Mainers and our economy. Cutting carbon emissions is an imperative element of that, and we can’t settle for either the status quo or a return to the times and policies that paid little heed to the environment around us.
One program on the state and regional level that has shown great success already, but now faces an imminent decision on its future, is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. After a 20-month review, a choice must be made on the amount of carbon reduction required – which directly translates into protecting Maine’s people and resources.
Maine is one of nine states (along with Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont) that participate in an interstate cap-and-invest system that limits carbon dioxide emissions from power companies and allows them to buy and sell permits for the emissions they create. The revenue from auctioning off these permits is put to work to further reduce emissions, providing funding for energy-efficiency programs and helping pay power bills.
RGGI has been an unparalleled success – it’s a shining example of how states can lead the way to low carbon-based economies. When initiated in 2009, doomsayers predicted huge jumps in the cost of power, lost jobs, and a faltering economy. Instead, RGGI has:
• Grown regional employment by more than 30,000 job-years.
• Reduced electricity rates in member states by 3.4 percent (while the price grew in non-RGGI states).
• Contributed to 25 percent growth in member state economies (again outpacing non-RGGI states).
• Saved utility customers $618 million on their energy bills to date, with billions more expected over these measures’ lifetimes.
• Provided public health benefits valued at $5.7 billion (and that’s just the estimated benefit from the reduction in CO2; other illness-causing pollution has been cut as well).
• Reduced carbon pollution from power plants by 40 percent (outperforming the rest of the country).
These results speak for themselves. But for me, cutting carbon is more personal: It’s very real and is essential for protecting our oceans. About 25 percent of carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the ocean, and the resulting chemical reactions cause ocean acidification. Acidification, as the video “A Climate Calamity in the Gulf of Maine Part 2” shows, is especially harmful to creatures with shells. This means oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, crab and, yes, lobsters, too.
Research indicates that the Gulf of Maine is particularly vulnerable to acidification. It’s also warming 99 percent faster than the rest of the world’s oceans (carbon pollution carries the blame there as well). It’s time for seafood lovers to speak up to ensure that the abundance we’ve enjoyed for so long continues.
While scientists are exploring ways to adapt to our changing waters, we have to address the root cause: carbon emissions. RGGI is the best tool that Maine has to do this. The decision that’s up for debate is whether RGGI’s cap will continue to decline at only 2.5 percent annually, or whether we adopt more ambitious caps of up to 3.5 percent a year from 2021 through 2030. The difference could mean an extra 99 million short tons of carbon eliminated by 2030. That’s more than a year’s worth of emissions for the region at a cost to utilities of less than one-tenth of a penny per kilowatt-hour of electricity. Why wouldn’t we jump at such a cost-effective chance to reduce emissions?
Unbelievably, Maine is one of the states balking at the higher cap, even though the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative subsidizes our electricity rates, making them the lowest in New England. Now is the time to speak up for the health of our ocean, our people, and our economy. RGGI’s cap should increase to 3.5 percent annually, getting us closer to our climate policy goals and ensuring that the Maine way of life continues for generations to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Richard Nelson of Friendship has fished for lobster for over 30 years. He is a member of the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission and the Maine Regional Ocean Planning Advisory Group.